How Blesma has helped Michelle Murphy smile again after a horrific fall at her home
Michelle Murphy is an an amputee, but Blesma hasn't helped her with a prosthetic or mobility aid. Instead, the association has sorted out her shoes and her smile.
Having served in the Royal Signals for 22 years, Michelle Murphy lost her right leg in 2018 after an innocuous cut on her foot led to the flesh-eating disease Necrotising Fasciitis. She would have been forgiven for taking her time to come to terms with this ‘new normal’ but for the last two years, she has barely left her house after a horrific fall resulted in her breaking or losing almost every single one of her teeth…
Blesma normally supports its Members with prosthetics or mobility aids, but the charity has recently helped you with something else… Over the last 12 months the charity’s support has been life changing for me. Thanks to Blesma, I have an amazing new set of teeth! I had such a bad fall one day right at the beginning of lockdown – I fell at home from the top of the stairs to the bottom without touching a single stair! I landed on my face and knocked out all my top teeth. I couldn’t move for 20 minutes and then was only able to crawl into the living room and phone my son for help. It was at the beginning of Covid and although a dentist came out to see me, there wasn’t a great deal he could do. I had black eyes and a bruised and bloodied face, and had chipped, broken, loosened or knocked out every single one of my teeth.
That must have had a massive impact on your life… I certainly had a long list of things I wasn’t able to eat! Everything had to be incredibly soft, even fruit. I tried wearing dentures, but they made me feel sick. At first, it wasn’t too bad because I could wear a Covid mask when I went out. But then my self-confidence got very low – I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror – and it got so bad that I wouldn’t even step out of the front door.
How did Blesma help you? My Support Officer suggested implants, but I couldn’t afford them. She told me to get several quotes and Blesma would help to cover the costs. It was around this time that one dentist discovered that I had damaged my jaw bone in the fall, which is where they would have put the implants. The only option was to go into my cheek bones, and that bumped the total price up to £22,000. Blesma reached out to five other military charities and together they funded my treatment.
I lost my job, my car, everything. It was hard to deal with because I’ve always worked hard to be able to afford things. Then, suddenly, I couldn’t even walk to the shops
What did the dental work involve? I had to be in the chair for six-and-a-half hours. I was awake the whole time. The roof of my mouth was cut open and peeled back so they could see into my nasal passage to make sure they didn’t damage any nerves in my face while they put the implants into my cheek bones. I had three weeks of horrendous pain afterwards; but in hindsight it was the best thing I could have done.
This isn’t the only time Blesma has helped you, is it? I attended Blesma’s Ladies with Limb Loss event last March. We were all comparing prosthetics, injuries and our difficulties. My Outreach Officer overheard me telling the group that I kept falling because my prosthetic leg was too long and she immediately put me in touch with Brian Chenier, Blesma’s Support Officer (Prosthetics). At the time, the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers had been in touch with Blesma to offer their support to the charity. They wanted to fund a pair of boots that would be made by Bill Bird Shoes, a bespoke orthopaedic shoemaker.
What was the problem with your prosthetic? Being only four foot ten inches tall, my prosthetic is just that little bit too long, but it’s the smallest size the NHS will fund. I didn’t have the money to fund a custom-fitted prosthetic, so I’ve just always put up with it, but because it is longer than my remaining leg, it gives me terrible hip and back pain. When I take a step with my prosthetic it often just clips the floor, which is what caused the horrendous fall down the stairs.
So how did Bill Bird Shoes help? Last year, I visited their workshop in the Cotswolds where they measured my feet and legs. The boot they made for my remaining leg has a heel inside to make it the same length as my prosthetic, but from the outside the shoes look exactly the same! The shoes have been life changing and have helped so much with my back pain. They feel great and look fantastic, too.
What was it like to finally get that support? For three years I thought my problem was unsolvable. The hospital had told me there was nothing I could do unless I had £100,000 to buy my own prosthetic. When Brian called, it seemed like such an obvious solution; make the shoe, rather than the leg, fit the person. I was blown away that the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers and Bill Bird Shoes would do this for me.
You became a Blesma Member in 2019, tell us about your military background… They were the best years of my life! I travelled all over Europe – mainly to Germany and Holland – as well as all around the UK. I worked in motor transports as a teleoperator. If I hadn’t been paid, I still would have done it! I loved the comradeship and the fact that you were never alone.
How were you injured? I left the Army in 2011, when I was 46 years old; I felt I was getting too old and I had achieved everything I’d wanted to. I hurt my leg just a few months later at my sister’s wedding. I woke up the next morning in incredible pain. I went to A&E and they thought I’d torn a ligament. They put a strap on my leg and sent me home, but two days later I was screaming in agony. There was a horrible smell coming off my leg and the pain was unbearable. When I took off the strap, my leg was grey with dots of blood. It was like someone had been prodding me with a small pin. I was rushed back to hospital, but I don’t remember anything from the moment I arrived until a few weeks later.
Have you been told what happened? I was put on an antibiotic drip for a day while doctors tried to work out what was wrong. Within 48 hours, I was in theatre having my leg opened up so that they could see what was going on. The anaesthetist spotted that it was Necrotising Fasciitis, which is a flesh-eating bug. At the wedding, I’d cut my foot on some glass and walked across the grass. It wasn’t a torn ligament at all! Necrotising Fasciitis doesn’t respond to antibiotics, so the doctors had to cut it out – from my ankle to my knee, all the way down to the bone. They took away all the affected muscle tissue. The only bit I had left was my thigh. But the infection had also travelled up to my kidneys, so I was put in intensive care. Doctors told my husband and sons that it didn’t look like I was going to make it and that they should say their goodbyes. They operated once again to take more of the infection out, and luckily this time, it worked.
I had black eyes and a bruised and bloodied face, and had chipped, broken, loosened or knocked out every single one of my teeth
Did you manage to keep your leg? Initially, but I was in immense amounts of pain for several months and went back into theatre another six times. I had a skin graft onto my bone but it formed too tightly to my knee which meant I couldn’t bend my leg. I walked with a limp, but it was a charity 26-mile tab in Army boots with an 86lb weight on my back that ended it all. A few weeks after that, there was a cut on my skin graft and, within weeks, my leg was pouring with blood. There was nothing the doctors could do but amputate.
How did you cope? I lost my job, my car, everything. It was hard to deal with because I’ve always worked hard to be able to afford things. Then, suddenly, I couldn’t even walk to the shops. But I’ve always been strong mentally. In the early days, before I got my prosthetic, I tied a little basket to my Zimmer frame, which I would put my cleaning stuff in, and that’s how I cleaned the house!
When did Blesma enter your life? An old Major of mine came to check in on me and he was the one who suggested that I should join Blesma. It wasn’t long until I went on my first Blesma activity – that was in 2019 – which was horse riding in America. I learned so much from the group about prosthetics and being an amputee. I fell a lot on the trip, but a young veteran with the same injury told me about microprocessor knees. The rest is history!
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