I lost my left leg above the knee following a shark attack at the age of 47 years, in 1997, while snorkelling off a small island in Fiji. My husband, against all odds, saved my life and organised to get me back to Middlemore Hospital within 24 hours. I was on life support for four days before they amputated my leg.
My immediate reaction occurred in the water when I felt overwhelmingly bereft. On regaining consciousness following the amputation my reaction was one of gratitude that I was still alive.
My husband Johnny was and is my main support. Family, friends and work colleagues rallied around. Lorraine Wyse, from The Canterbury/Westland Amputee Society sent a lovely letter and a 'New Challenge' booklet. I read and re-read this booklet and found it extremely helpful. On being transferred to Christchurch Hospital, Rachel White, an amputee and president of the local society, visited me and offered support. It was encouraging to see someone who was coping extremely well with her artificial limb.
I returned to work part time on crutches in the sixth week following the attack and continued to work part time, which involved travelling the country, until 2004. I swam to regain fitness and began playing golf, working up from 1 to 18 holes.
Pain relief was the initial challenge. The Pain Clinic in Christchurch was helpful and whilst medications weren't effective, TENS (transcutaneous electrical stimulation) was initially successful. I now rely on acupuncture every 3-4 years.
There was no rehabilitation as physiotherapists were a later addition to the Limb Centre Teams. My prosthetist, Bob Russell, was supportive and encouraging. He fitted my new limb, a safety leg with a strap around the waist and a fairly rigid knee, and taught me how to walk. After six months I moved onto a suction fit. This was challenging and caused continual friction and skin loss, which dramatically limited my mobility and was at times very frustrating. Seven years later the iceross soft liner greatly improved my skin integrity and ongoing mobility. Today I successfully use vaseline on my skin where there is likely to be friction at the top of the liner.
Fit, function and aesthetics are the key things I require from an artificial limb. I was fortunate to have Ryoji, at the Dunedin Limb Centre, who has provided me with the best fit I have ever had with an artificial limb. This has dramatically improved my skin integrity and quality of life.
In 2005 we moved to Wanaka where I swim three kilometres a week freestyle, play nine-hole golf once a week and enjoy looking after my large garden. Johnny and I are part of the Coastguard unit for the Wanaka Lakes and are often the first response boat when anyone is in trouble on the lake. I am on call for Meals on Wheels and participate in a Grandparenting Programme at the local primary school. In 2010, at the age of 60 years, I became the Wanaka nine-hole golf champion.
I firmly believe that a supportive partner and a positive attitude make an amazing difference and that it's important to focus on what you are able to do and celebrate achievements no matter how small. This allows you to concentrate on 'how' to do things rather than 'if' you can do them.
One goal of retirement was to ride a bike again so we bought a tandem and enjoyed the Otago rail trail. Life is great!