We have a special guest blog today from a runner who I'm sure will inspire others who've been through the pain and frustration of persistent injuries. Samantha's story started as a toddler and continues to this day but her determination and bravery has kept her going despite obstacles that would stop most people in their tracks. You can follow Sam on Twitter via @Sam_Davies141 and on her Facebook Page. She's taking part in Run Down Dementia to raise money for Alzheimer's Research UK and you can sponsor her here.
Those that know me will know of my personal struggles growing up and for those those that don’t, believe me, it’s been a battle and a half!
It started in 1983 when I was just 2 years old when I was involved in a serious RTA with a milk tanker. I’d just got off the bus with my mum when I saw my Nan across the other side of the road. In a flash I was gone, running in front of the parked bus. The driver of the tanker didn’t really stand a chance. I was told later that he tried to swerve to avoid me but the nuts on the front wheel caught my t-shirt and dragged me around the wheel.
Those early days following the accident were touch and go. I was kept in an induced coma to allow my body to heal and at one point the decision was made to amputate my leg. However a surgeon who was over from the States wanted to try and save it. He carried out the operation and, up until now, I still have the leg (this will become clearer later).
It’s been a long road. I’ve had over 50 reconstructive operations so far, Skin Grafts, Tendon Transfers, Leg Lengthening, you name it. I wore a Caliper until I was 7 years old, then a hard backed splint until I was 12 and each time the surgeons said I would never be able to do something because of my leg, I went ahead and proved them wrong. Some would say I’m determined, I’d say I’m probably just stubborn. During High School I was Games Captain and discovered my love for running. Yet again I was told I couldn’t do it. Yet again I proved I could. Don’t get me wrong I was never quick, I was definitely no sprinter, but I loved cross country.
After I left school I soon became plagued with problems with my foot. The surgeons were convinced it was my running so I was told to stop. I did and I hated it.
For about 10 years I did as I was told but I was still in immense pain. I couldn’t work, could hardly walk and needed crutches. I snapped and begged them to sort out the pain, asking them to amputate my foot. I’d had enough. I had more surgery but got Osteomyelitis.
I think this was probably the turning point for me. After a long recovery I’d decided no more surgery. The only other operation that would take place would be amputation. There’s only so much a person can take and it wasn’t just the continuous pain. Little thing like shoes; my bad foot is a good 2 sizes smaller than my ‘good’ foot, so finding a pair to fit is like finding hens teeth! Being limited with shoes meant I was limited with clothes; you can’t exactly wear pretty clothes with clumpy trainers or orthotic shoes and growing up this has a huge impact.
So I went to the local gym and started running again. Just 10 minutes at a time, mixed up with some other cardio. Don’t get me wrong it was agony to start, but then I started to notice that although it was painful to train, I wasn’t in pain for days after. I was winning. No more steroids, painkillers and anti-inflammatories. Believe me after years of full doses of CoProxamol, Naproxen, plus whatever they tried to give me, I felt better just not having a belly full of tablets.
It took time but after a while I could run an average 11 minute mile for over an hour. I spent most of my time at the gym. I’d run to the gym, complete an hour work out, finish with a class such as Boxercise or Circuit Training, then run home. I was loving my new found pain free freedom.
But it wasn’t to last. 2011 and my foot started playing up. But this was different to the pain I’d had before and I knew something was wrong. A week later and I had an infection. It was strange because it erupted from the inside, out, but there had been nothing there before. I was given antibiotics and told to rest. Except they didn’t work, so they increased the dose. Again they didn’t work so then they changed them. You know how it is, it's trial and error sometimes and over the years I’ve built up a pretty good resistance to a lot of the antibiotics and I’m allergic to others, so when I get an infection, the prognosis isn’t great. This cycle continued for 2 years and I had to continually take antibiotics. Not just the standard dose either, but 8g per day! I constantly felt sick but if I stopped taking them, the infection came back.
Finally my consultant decided something had to be done. By now my scarring from previous surgery was so extensive that even if he’d been able to open the foot up to see what was going on, there was no way he could close it back up. So I was referred to the Royal Liverpool hospital. A PET scan diagnosed Septic Arthritis, likely to have been caused from the Osteomyelitis years ago. This called for a huge operation with only a 40% chance of success.
September 2014 I had major surgery to both legs. De-gloving the foot and ankle, debriding the joint, removing sections of the Tibia and Fibula and reconstructing my left foot using grafts from my right thigh. 2 surgical teams from 2 hospitals worked for 13 hours. The artery needed for the graft was deep in the lateral quad, so they took that with it and grafted the whole thing to my foot.
I won’t lie, the first 24 hours were excruciating, but actually once the back slab was taken off, I felt better. I recovered well in hospital and managed to get discharged just 10 days later.
It was being at home that was hard. Being an active person to suddenly not being able to do anything, was more than hard for me. The hatred I felt for my wheelchair is what spurred me on and actually I only used it twice.
8 wks post op, I was back in the gym. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but I’ve been through this kind of thing before and previously had been training for a half marathon, so I know my own body and I know what I can and can’t do. I couldn’t run at the time (obviously!) but I could row, cycle and weight train, so I did.
My prognosis wasn’t great. Some of the grafts failed and I needed further surgery. There was a very high chance I could still lose my foot, but I knew I had to keep going. 5 months post op and I should have still been in a wheelchair, but I walked into my follow clinic appointment with just one crutch.
At this point I think the surgeons realised they could only advise me, I was going to do things my way regardless. Again I must stress after 30 odd years of surgery, I know what I’m doing. I’ve had every therapy and physio session going and I’m also a physio student so I know more than most.
September 2015 and I started my Physio degree at Salford and I have to say it’s been bloody hard work! I’ve struggled with the commuting (3 hours each way some days!) and the workload outside of lessons has also been immense. Some assignments I flew through but some of my grades left me feeling deflated and wondering whether I was going to make it to the end. But I’ve taken a good hard look at what I’ve done and honestly, I’ve procrastinated far more than I should have done! So I’ve finished for the summer and now it’s time to get back on track and sort myself out.
Maybe I’m mad (likely!) and again the odds are against me (I do love a challenge though!) but I’ve gone and entered the ballot for the London Marathon 2017!
So it’s back to basics… Ive got my training plan loaded up and I’m starting from scratch. I’m under no illusions that I’m far from marathon ready (if I’ll ever be!), I’m nearly 3 stone heavier and have since been diagnosed with COPD (that’s a whole other story) but I am determined, motivated and if nothing else, bloody stubborn!
I don’t know if I’ll make it, but I’m going to bloody well try!
I’m inviting you all to join me… Follow my journey on Facebook, or even come join me on a run, the more the merrier and if I look like I’m struggling, kick me up the ass and keep me moving!