The ‘sim­ple cut’ which led to agony - and loss of both legs

South Wales Echo - - News - MARK SMITH Health Cor­re­spon­dent [email protected]­line.co.uk

WHEN promis­ing young lawyer Vic­to­ria Ab­bott-Flem­ing fell down the stairs in work she thought she had suf­fered a sim­ple cut and mi­nor bruis­ing.

But lit­tle did she know that the in­jury would change her life for­ever, leav­ing her in con­stant agony and even­tu­ally lead­ing to her los­ing both legs.

She even con­sid­ered tak­ing her own life after her right leg be­came so in­fected that she one day woke up to it swarm­ing with live mag­gots.

“I went into the lounge and I saw that some­thing in my leg was mov­ing and I thought my eyes were de­ceiv­ing me,” said Vic­to­ria, re­call­ing the mo­ment she dis­cov­ered the mag­gots.

“When I saw what it was ap­par­ently I let out a blood-cur­dling scream and passed out. My hus­band thought I was be­ing mur­dered.

“The only way he could get rid of them was to put dis­in­fec­tant into some wa­ter and throw it at me.

“But my leg was so painful it felt like hav­ing an acid bath.”

Vic­to­ria, who stud­ied at Aberys­t­wyth Univer­sity and had re­cently passed her bar exam, was just 24 when she slipped on some con­crete steps in work in Novem­ber 2003.

“When I stood up the pain im­me­di­ately hit me. It made me feel sick,” she added. “I didn’t know whether I had bro­ken any­thing at the time, but my car was about 100 yards away so I man­aged to walk to it.

“I called my hus­band and burst into tears. We lived about four miles away and I just wanted to get home so I drove – though I don’t re­mem­ber do­ing it.”

By the time she got home Vic­to­ria said her right leg from the knee down had “tripled in size”.

Rather than go­ing to A&E she opted to visit a walk-in cen­tre where she was given anti-swelling drugs and her wound was dressed.

“I used to play hockey a lot so I was used to in­juries, but I’d never had any­thing like this,” added the 40-year-old.

“The pain felt like boil­ing oil be­ing poured on me 24/7 or like a ham­mer be­ing thrown at my bone. It just never went away.

“We went to hos­pi­tal after hos­pi­tal, doc­tor after doc­tor, con­sul­tant after con­sul­tant – I think we saw 39 al­to­gether – and none could of­fer any ex­pla­na­tion as to why I was get­ting this pain.

“Many of them told me it was psy­cho­log­i­cal. De­pres­sion did hit me quite badly and I was put on tablets but that just made things worse.

“I would burst into tears at the small­est of things, like an ad­vert on TV.

“Be­cause there were no an­swers I be­gan to doubt my­self and think that maybe I was dream­ing this and that the pain was all in my head.”

Six months after the fall Vic­to­ria was di­ag­nosed with com­plex re­gional pain syn­drome (CRPS), a con­di­tion nor­mally trig­gered by an in­jury but ends up be­ing far more se­vere and lon­glast­ing than would nor­mally be ex­pected.

De­spite be­ing classed as a rare con­di­tion it is thought to af­fect around 15,000 peo­ple in the UK ev­ery year.

“I was re­lieved to fi­nally be ‘la­belled’ with a con­di­tion.

“At last I felt vin­di­cated and could prove that I wasn’t mak­ing it up,” she added.

“I was left with no sup­port. At the time Google wasn’t like it is now, so I could find very lit­tle about it.”

Due to her con­stant pain Vic­to­ria ended up los­ing her job and be­came a vir­tual recluse, only leav­ing her house to go to hos­pi­tal.

“If I went shop­ping I would have to be very care­ful that no-one hit or touched my legs,” she said.

“But by 2005 I was in a wheel­chair and couldn’t even wear shoes. Hav­ing a shower felt like acid rain.

“My hus­band had fallen in love with an ath­letic, sporty ex­tro­vert type but I’d turned into a her­mit with black clouds con­stantly over me. I just didn’t feel like me.”

As her right leg con­tin­ued to de­te­ri­o­rate it caused at­ro­phy, where the skin, tis­sue and bone of the af­fected limb sim­ply waste away.

Open ul­cers, swelling and “ele­phant skin” soon be­gan to ap­pear, which came with a ter­ri­ble smell.

“Peo­ple could smell me be­fore they could see me. It was like rot­ting meat,” she said.

“I took my­self out of a lot of sit­u­a­tions be­fore the other per­son could say ‘Can you smell that?’ I wanted to kill my­self.”

But things hit rock bot­tom in Au­gust 2006 when Vic­to­ria, at 26 years old, woke up to find her leg crawl­ing with mag­gots.

“You au­to­mat­i­cally as­sume that mag­gots mean dirt so I felt in­cred­i­bly dirty,” she said,

“Even be­fore the mag­gots ap­peared I knew I could not go on with this leg, so I made the de­ci­sion to have it am­pu­tated.”

In April 2006 Vic­to­ria and part­ner Michael made the de­ci­sion to get mar­ried while she still had two legs, with the am­pu­ta­tion just above the right knee tak­ing place the fol­low­ing Septem­ber.

She had an­other four inches taken off be­fore the con­di­tion spread to her left leg, which was am­pu­tated just be­fore her 36th birth­day in De­cem­ber 2014.

“When it got to my left leg I saw a world spe­cial­ist in CRPS, who said there was noth­ing he could do,” she added.

“The am­pu­ta­tion took place two days be­fore my birth­day and I spent the day in in­ten­sive care. That’s not the best way to spend your birth­day, is it?”

Vic­to­ria, who con­tin­ues to ex­pe­ri­ence swelling and pain in the stumps of her legs, now takes 57 tablets ev­ery day.

But rather than shy­ing away from her hor­ren­dous or­deal, Der­byshire res­i­dent Vic­to­ria has set up a char­ity called Burn­ing Nights which in­creases aware­ness of CRPS and sup­ports suf­fer­ers around the world.

She is also start­ing a cam­paign in Par­lia­ment with MP Ruth Ge­orge for more re­search into the con­di­tion.

“Pa­tients with CRPS of­ten have men­tal health and fi­nan­cial prob­lems as well as mar­riage and fam­ily breakups. Those are the things that tend to be for­got­ten. GPs still do not know enough about it.”

■ For more in­for­ma­tion on the con­di­tion and the sup­port avail­able, visit www.burn­ing­nightscrps.org

Vic­to­ria Ab­bott-Flem­ing

Vic­to­ria Ab­bott-Flem­ing with her hus­band Michael, below, her ill­ness started with what seemed like a ‘sim­ple cut’

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