Body

Real life: How an ingrown toenail led to a leg amputation

Warning! Graphic photos below.
"Please chop my leg off."

By As told to Take 5

As I stood on the edge of the mat, I felt adrenaline coursing through my veins.

'And the winner is…' the commentator boomed, 'Hannah Moore!' My mouth dropped open.

I'd done it!

At 15 years old, I'd won the national karate championships.

My win left me feeling like I was on cloud nine.

But soon after, I noticed a niggling pain in my toes, and when I pulled my socks off, I grimaced.

The big toenails on both my feet were yellowing and not in good shape.

The anaesthetist placed the mask over my face and, seconds later, I drifted into darkness. 
**Photos exclusive to *Take 5***
The anaesthetist placed the mask over my face and, seconds later, I drifted into darkness.
Photos exclusive to Take 5

When they got infected, I went to my GP and was booked in for minor surgery to remove them.

I had the left nail done first.

The procedure went well and within two weeks the new nail was growing in its place.

A month later, I went back to the hospital to have the right one taken off.

This time, when the surgeon injected the local anaesthetic into my foot, I yelped out in agony.

'Ouch,' I winced, as a searing pain shot up my whole leg.I'd never known pain like it.

And after the procedure was done, my right toe just didn't seem to be healing.

A month later, it still wasn't right, so I went back to the hospital for an X-ray.

Then the doctor called me and my mum Lisa into his office for the results.

'Your toe itself is fine,' he said. 'But you've developed a condition called complex regional pain syndrome, or CRPS, as a result.'

'What's that?' I asked.

'It's a rare neurological disorder which means the signals in your brain are misfiring,' he said. 'It's making you believe your foot is in more pain than it really is.'

Staring at the doctor, I still didn't understand.

But he told me that physiotherapy would help me get the condition under control.

"This time, when the surgeon injected the local anaesthetic into my foot, I yelped out in agony. 
**Photos exclusive to *Take 5***
"This time, when the surgeon injected the local anaesthetic into my foot, I yelped out in agony.
Photos exclusive to Take 5

However, when it came to physio, having my toe poked and prodded was too painful to bear.

My foot had begun to turn inwards and as the doctors tried to manipulate it back into position, I burst into tears.

Mum squeezed my hand and said, 'You'll get there, love.'

But the truth was, none of us knew if I'd get better or worse and, deep down, we were all worried.

By now, I was having to walk on the side of my foot and although I was still going to school and studying, the pain was constant.

Over the next year, I went back and forth to my GP begging for help to control it. But nothing I was given worked.

Despite everything, I passed my exams and got a place on a chef scholarship at college, with training at a top hotel.

Over the next months, I threw myself into that.

WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTO BELOW

Then, one day, I was getting dressed when I noticed a small black dot on my foot.

A week later, I peeled off my sock and my stomach lurched.

The little black dot was not so little any more and the skin around it had collapsed inwards, revealing a gruesome ulcer.

I had the wound patched up in hospital, but instead of healing, parts of my foot began turning black and scaly. Just the sight of it turned my tummy.

But worse news was to come.

Unable to wear socks and shoes, I had to be signed off sick from college and put my career on hold.

I was devastated.Doctors said the only way to get rid of the ulcer once and for all was to have a skin graft.

The surgery went well, but within a week of being home, the wound began to open up again.

"The little black dot was not so little any more and the skin around it had collapsed inwards, revealing a gruesome ulcer." **Photos exclusive to *Take 5***
"The little black dot was not so little any more and the skin around it had collapsed inwards, revealing a gruesome ulcer." Photos exclusive to Take 5

'Why does this keep happening to me?' I cried to Mum.

By now, it had been three years since I was diagnosed and I couldn't understand how one ingrown toenail had caused so much misery.

In the months that followed, I had two more skin grafts and finally it looked like my foot was healing. I went back to college soon after, but my excitement was short-lived when a fresh dot appeared on my foot.

Over the course of the next year, I kept going back to the hospital. Each time I had to have the dressing changed, the wound cleaned and my leg put in a cast – all under general anaesthetic.

In total, I had that done 53 times and, finally, I snapped.

I can't do this any more, I thought.

I'd made a big decision, but I was scared of telling Mum.

Sitting at home with her one day, I plucked up my courage, steadied my voice and said, 'I want to have my leg amputated.'

She looked at me and I knew she understood.

'Are you really sure?' she asked.

'Yes,' I told her.

'I want my life back.'

Amputation had been discussed before, but the doctors worried the pain would travel up the rest of my leg.

Now, after years of hell, it was a risk I was willing to take.

We began speaking to doctors, but suffered a setback when the public health system refused to fund the operation.

It took almost a year, but eventually we found a surgeon with experience of CRPS who was willing to amputate my leg below the knee for $9000.

Pulling together mine and my parents' savings,we found the money.

I then underwent psychological assessments to check I was sure about my decision.

Through all the ups and downs, my determination to go ahead with the amputation never wavered and when the big day arrived, I was excited.

I might have lost my leg, but I've gained so much more. 
**Photos exclusive to *Take 5***
I might have lost my leg, but I've gained so much more.
Photos exclusive to Take 5

Mum was by my side in hospital as I was prepped for the surgery and then whisked down to the operating theatre.

'See you on the other side,' she said, squeezing my hand.

The anaesthetist placed the mask over my face and, seconds later, I drifted into darkness.

When I awoke, I felt quite groggy, but there was just one thing on my mind.

I glanced down at the sheet covering my legs, turned to the nurse and said, 'Is it gone?'

'Yes,' she replied.I pulled back the sheet and stared down at the stump carefully wrapped up in bandages. All I felt was utter joy.Back home, I was no longer crippled by the same dreadful pain I had experienced before.

For the first time in years, I was actually hopeful.

Soon after being discharged from hospital, I went to meet with a specialist prosthetics company.

They talked me through all the options available to me and, because I wanted to get back into sport, helped me pick the right limb for me.

Learning to walk again was a slow and difficult process, but I was determined, and soon I was back on my feet.

I took up wheelchair racing and handcycling and, before long, my friends and family were on the sidelines to cheer me on.

Now I'm using specially made sports prosthetics. I have been accepted for the paratriathlon talent squad and I'm really hoping to compete in the Paralympics in the future.

I've also joined forces with a CRPS charity to raise awareness of the condition.

For me, choosing to cut off my limb was the best decision I've ever made.

I might have lost my leg, but I've gained so much more.

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