Getting new legs wasn't without trials for Glenn but they have totally transformed his life
Glenn Harrison knows all about the ups and downs of using prosthetic legs.
At 57 he’s had a life-time’s experience of limb fittings, pain and the associated problems artificial legs can bring.
As a child, and then as a teenager, Glenn’s numerous visits to hospitals such as Roehampton and Great Ormond Street meant that he lost out on education and found himself behind, academically; but this didn’t stop him achieving his ambition of becoming a haulage contractor, like his dad, and getting his Class One HGV licence.
“Getting that was one of my proudest moments”, says Glenn. “It means I can look anyone in the eye and say ‘I’m just the same as you. In fact, I’m actually better’.”
He’s driven lorries, without adaptations, all over Europe and had a successful career in and around haulage until 15 – 20 years ago when he developed cellulitis as a result of many years using the old style ‘Number Eight’ prosthetic legs.
“It was a really hard decision to give up work, especially at such a young age” he says “but I was going into work in agony every day. I could have retrained but haulage was what I was born to do so I decided to face reality and live a different life.”
Nowadays Glenn is enjoying a great social life and his passion for greyhound racing. He has shares in six racing greyhounds and has two retired dogs himself.
Glenn’s greyhounds helped him ditch the old ‘number eights’ for new style prosthetic legs. “I needed to be able to walk them every day and the old legs were holding me back”, he explains. “They look forward to their walks and I couldn’t let them go without – and I’m glad I didn’t. Now I’m walking further and further.”
Getting the new legs wasn’t without its trials but they have transformed Glenn’s life, both physically and personally. Here’s his truly inspiring story.
Life with 'number eights'
“ The old fashioned prosthetic legs, ‘number eights’ were heavy and cumbersome. They were made of wood and metal with leather straps and weren’t really a comfortable solution. They caused blisters and boils and other skin issues and led to the cellulitis that made me have to give up work; but that was really all that was available, and you tend to take what you’re given.”
“In the early days, limb fitters wouldn’t really expect you to have that much mobility with your legs – they helped you walk but that was it. I fell out with my fitter because I was in pain and they said they couldn’t do anything for me - it’s very different now.
When my old fitter left I was put under the care of Laura, a young girl, just out of university, and I thought, ‘oh, how’s this going to work?’
She was amazing, she had a completely different attitude. We sat there for 2 hours once, trying to get one of my legs to stop squeaking! I was ready to give up and try a bit more at home but she was determined that I wouldn’t leave until the squeak was sorted – that was a real turning point.
We got on so well, over the years, that when she transferred from Nottingham to the Seacroft Hospital in Leeds, I transferred with her! She’s emigrated now, though, and that was a bit of step too far so I started working with Helen who’s just like her. She’s a diamond.
When I was camping in France and my leg wouldn’t come off I was able to ring her and she told me what to do. You wouldn’t have got that in the old days.”
“Having a good relationship with your fitter is crucial – it was them that suggested I try the new design. They understand what I mean when I tell them that you walk with your mind, as well as your legs and you need to feel good about your legs – they’re a major part of your body! I was a bit worried about making the change – wondering if it would really make a difference, but they reassured me. We all get a bit reluctant to change things as we get older but if the change is going to stop you being in pain, why wouldn’t you? So I gave it a go.”
A new start
“I could walk brilliantly with my old legs, just not that far. The new legs have changed all that. They’re like a diver’s wetsuit. They cling to your body like a glove. It’s like putting on a sock, I roll them onto my stumps and they stick like glue. There’s a pin at the bottom that locks them in place and the foot part is like a hiking boot, and is totally waterproof. I can shower wearing my new legs, go into the sea and walk further than I did before. Walking one or two miles with the dogs isn’t a problem.”
“With my old legs I used to have to wear woollen socks every day. That might sound trivial but they take up room in your suitcase when you go on holiday, you have to wash them every day (and they take a while to dry!) and if it’s a hot summer’s day, they’re boiling! I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
“It took a while to get used to the changes the new legs bring. The leather side bars on the number eights did all the work for you and gave you stability; you didn’t have to engage your muscles to use them. As a result of that the muscles waste away.
I hadn’t used my muscles for fifty years – but they’re back now and getting stronger every day. I have more flexibility but I have developed arthritis in my knee. We’re going to do something about that.”
Positivity pays off
“Having a positive mind-set has really helped me make the change to the new prosthetic legs. I used to sit at the Limb Centre and see squaddies coming in for their fittings, struggling with a whole set of emotions and issues. I realised how different they are to me – I’ve never known any difference, I’ve always been without legs. It’s a massive shock to the system for them and I found myself thinking ‘at least I don’t have to deal with that’.”
“I’m much clearer about what I want now. It’s not just about mobility – it’s about feeling the best you can. I recently got a new set of legs, I could use as spares. When I went for the fitting they fitted perfectly but looked awful – as if I was about 28 stone! I said I just couldn’t wear them and they’ve changed them for me, paring them down so they look more in keeping with my size. I’m collecting them tomorrow.”
“There are lots of us with prosthetic legs – and if another beneficiary told me they were contemplating using the new style ones I’d say ‘go for it – expect the best for yourself and push yourself to get it. I was so angry a few years ago when the then disability minister pledged to give Paralympians the best possible legs for their sport. Why can’t we all have the best possible legs, whatever we do in life? The days of just ‘taking what you’re given’ are gone.”
“I totally understand the fear of change but if you’re positive about it, it can change your life. I can do all the things I used to do with my ‘number eights’ but I do them with greater flexibility and no pain. It doesn’t get better than that.”