A Wolverhampton teen is looking forward to a bright future thanks to the support he received from BCHC's amputee rehabilitation team.
Jude Aston was born with cerebral palsy, and throughout his childhood and adolescence had become used to regular medical appointments, hospital visits and operations. But in January 2020, he developed complications following an operation which resulted in his right leg contracting into an upright position, folded up towards his chest.
The contracture made it very difficult for him to sit comfortably let alone move around. Daily tasks like going to the toilet and getting dressed were very difficult. He also developed a condition called complex regional pain syndrome, where his leg became highly sensitive to any touch – even a breath of air on his leg would result in extreme pain.
The complexities around his condition resulted in Jude spending two and a half years in hospital, where a multidisciplinary team at New Cross Hospital worked with him to try and improve the movement his contracted leg as well as reduce and manage his pain.
Jude said: “This was a really difficult time for me, both physically and psychologically and I missed two important years of growing up and doing things like learning to cook, going out by myself and meeting friends.”
It was during this time that Jude began to consider amputation.
“While we did make some progress in desensitising my leg, my movement was still really limited and I could see that it was really going to affect my life in the long term.”
“To me, amputation was the answer, but my doctors were not convinced – they were concerned that my complex regional pain syndrome would come back and we’d be back to square one," said Jude.
Jude spent a lot of time researching his options and the pros and cons of amputation. He was seen by the amputee rehabilitation team at West Midlands Rehabilitation Centre, led by consultant in amputee rehabilitation Dr Poorna Ramamurthy, who suggested a through knee amputation both to support optimal seating position and potentially consider prosthetic mobility. Eventually after several discussions between Jude, his medical team and his family, the surgeons agreed to go ahead, and in December 2022 performed the amputation.
Jude said: “I knew it was the right decision for me but I was still worried about waking up with half a leg. I’d had several operations before – waking up with casts on or dressings – but never without my leg. But when I woke, it just felt normal: like it was how it was meant to be.”
Just a few weeks later, Jude celebrated taking his first step to independence by going to watch his beloved Aston Villa play at home against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Jude said: “It felt amazing to be out of hospital and at the match. Even though I probably should’ve rested for a bit longer, I was determined to go to the Villa game, so I was pleased that after a being 1- down for most of the game, they equalised with 12 minutes to go!”
Jude’s recovery started with six months of intensive rehabilitation – working with the multidisciplinary team at West Midlands Rehabilitation Centre.
Liz Wood, senior physiotherapist in amputee rehabilitation, said: “We had met with Jude pre-amputation and at that stage the main focus was not walking; the goal was for him to be a ‘high-functioning’ wheelchair user.”
Week-by-week, Jude impressed the team with his progress: improving the range of movement in his hip and reducing the contraction in his amputated leg which, with the help of intensive physiotherapy and Jude’s sheer determination, went from 40 degrees to 10 degrees. Although Jude hadn’t walked for three years, his thoughts started turning to the possibility of a prosthesis so he met with principal prosthetist Andrew Sharpe, and he was tried on the early walking aid.
Jude said: “I remember Andy saying to me: ‘we can do this – but it’s down to you.’ I knew it would be a lot of hard work but I think having been born with cerebral palsy has made me more determined to succeed. I’ve had so many barriers to overcome already and my mantra has always been to start with small wins - as the Chinese proverb suggests: ‘the man who moves the mountain starts by removing small stones’.”
Weekly appointments with the team in Selly Oak helped to keep Jude on track with these small wins, with physio helping to build his strength and stability while the prosthetic team developed and fitted his prosthetic leg, making adjustments as he progressed.
Liz said: “Jude pushed us as much as we pushed him! He worked hard and was always looking to progress to the next level. It’s been a great team effort and we’re delighted to see him finally enjoy his freedom and independence.”
One year on from his operation, Jude continues to push the boundaries, having recently returned from his first trip abroad without his family, to watch Aston Villa play Zrinjski Mostar in the UEFA European Conference League.
Jude, who is currently working in marketing and hopes to pursue a career as a sports journalist, said: “It feels great to finally be able to make plans, see friends, and, of course, follow the Villa wherever they go!”
Follow Jude's progress on Instagram @judes_journey_yt