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Alex Lewis finally home after losing limbs to killer bug
LITTLE Sam Lewis says his daddy looks just like his favourite Power Ranger – the superhero with one red arm and one black arm.
With that, the three-and-a-half year old dashes off to fetch everything his real life protector will need to fend off the baddies.
Smiling dad Alex, a triple amputee, knows his son’s rummage to the depths of his toy box will not help him re-master basic skills like eating and walking.
They will not help him struggle into bed or use the toilet either.
Yet as Alex watches his son’s mission, it’s clear these special moments give the devoted dad all the strength he needs to get through the darkest time of his life.
Just six months ago Alex underwent hours of surgery to amputate his left arm above the elbow and both legs above the knees. He also lost part of his nose, his lips and underwent a pioneering 16-hour operation to reconstruct his remaining arm in a bid to save it.
His ordeal began with a simple cold which developed into a rare deadly bug.
He almost lost his life as his organs shut down and he was left in a coma.
However Alex has now moved into an adapted home with his family and beloved Labrador Holly.
Thanks to support from members of the public the home has everything Alex needs to be able to get his independence back.
Furthermore, in a matter of months he is determined to take his first steps again hand in hand with his little boy.
Despite his ordeal he says he couldn’t be happier.
“I feel desperately positive,” he says eyebrows furrowed with his trademark determination.
“I feel much stronger. Every day is getting easier.
“I can’t put into words how happy I am to be at home with my family and see my little boy actually in a home – I’ve missed it all so much.
“The first thing Sam was itching to do was to get me into his bedroom so I could see all his toys. It was lovely- and he loved it.
“Our whole life has been turned upside down but for me, there’s a lot of clarity.
“I feel I’ve experienced life and death and I am just so lucky to be here.”
Alex contracted Group A streptococcus last November – a normally harmless bacteria that the body should filter out. However it developed into septicaemia and toxic shock syndrome.
His partner Lucy Townsend, who runs Michelin Pub of the Year The Greyhound on the Test in Stockbridge, was told he had just a three per cent chance of survival.
Remarkably Alex survived.
Though Alex still has no feeling in his right hand, medics say the nerve growth is impressive.
And though the weight of his first prosthetic arm painfully rubs his shoulder with each movement, he is slowly learning to use the metal hook as a hand.
The former Peter Symonds pupil hopes with these new tools he will have the strength to wheel himself onto the ward at Salisbury District Hospital on July 2 when he will have his lips reconstructed.
But until his new sporty yellow and black wheelchair arrives next week, that mission has been far from easy.
“On top of everything else, I went and broke my arm,” Alex laughs.
“I just rolled over one day and tried to push myself up on my stump and heard a snap.”
As a result, completing basic tasks like getting into bed at night, climbing on and off the sofa and using the bathroom are now major tests of physical and mental strength.
He said: “The thing is if you are tired and weak one day, you’ve still got to do it. You have to eat and use the bathroom.
“Just getting around the house is a real effort.”
Alex, who played golf for the county aged 16, got a harsh reminder of just how testing life has become when he fell backwards out of his chair onto the kitchen floor after a wheel got stuck on the carpet.
“I whacked my head and thought ‘great’. My best mate was out in the garden and I shouted for him but he didn’t hear me. All I could do was lay there on my back for a bit like an upturned tortoise and thought ‘typical’, we were doing so well with the chair.
"Luckily my new wheelchair has anti tippers to stop that from happening,” he laughs.
“But that’s all part of it, it will happen loads of times.
“You have to get yourself up and get back on with it - but using a prosthetic arm I’m not used to and an arm that’s broken isn’t straightforward.”
But testament to his positivity, letting his disabilities beat him is simply not an option.
“You have to take the rough with the smooth. Ultimately if I was in this position in two years time I’d be heartbroken.
“But I will walk again and I will use my arm again.”
However it certainly won’t be the easy route he will take.
“I don’t want an electric wheelchair straight away because I think it would breed laziness from my point of view,” says Alex who is planning to go to Sam’s school to talk to his class.
“How is that doing any favours to the people who have worked tirelessly to give me my arm back?
“We need to see what it can do. It’s no good sitting in a chair - that defeats the purpose. There is no way in the world I am not going to self propel by the time that wheelchair turns up. ”
Since coming home two weeks ago, Alex’s best friend Chris Bagley has become his full time carer.
The pair, who have been friends since they were 14, constantly come up with creative ways to make life easier.
Alex with his best friend Chris Bagley
They have fitted anti-slip tape to Alex’s prosthetic arm to give it extra grip with his wheelchair tyre, they’re building a shelf so Alex can dispense his own shampoo and conditioner, and they’ve even adapted a fork to stick on the elbow of his prosthetic so he can feed himself – albeit tiny mouthfuls at a time due to how tight his mouth has become.
Not being able to fit anything bigger than a french fry in his mouth is one thing that gets to Alex, who previously helped Lucy run The King Arms pub in Lockerley before having to sell up when he was in hospital.
“Food is a big issue for me. I want to be able to eat with other people but at the moment, I can’t do that. If they are having lasagne I can’t have it, I just can’t get it in my mouth.
“It could be worse though.
“The last thing I wanted was to come home and be effectively spoon fed, that would have been horrendous and I couldn’t have coped with that but adapting the fork has meant all those fears are gone now.
“Hopefully there will be a time when I’ll be able to use a knife and fork with each hand.”
Alex, pictured right, before the infection
After recovering from lip surgery, Alex faces his biggest challenge yet.
He’ll go to a specialist unit in Roehampton where he will spend 10 weeks learning skills to regain his independence – including taking his first steps on prosthetic legs.
“Words cannot describe how much I can’t wait to get walking.
“All Sam talks about now is ‘daddy when you get your legs you can kick a ball about in the garden’, ‘when you get your legs you can do this, that and the other’. It’s lovely.
“The frustration is when I watch Sam playing in the garden out of the window and I can’t play with him. That gets me,” says Alex who, for the first time in the conversation, is looking away.
“But to think I could be walking by the end of the summer is just incredible.”
More incredible though is what Alex plans to do with his new body.
He is in the process of ordering a hand cycle and is busy planning a boys’ day out to golf’s Open Championship 2014 in Liverpool when he plans to make use of his new lips enjoying a few pints.
He’s even dreaming of major challenges like playing professional amputee golf and completing fundraisers such as marathons, skydives and mammoth bike rides to raise cash for fellow civilian amputees and even funding a Christmas party for the nurses who cared for him at Salisbury District Hospital.
But for now, it’s life’s small pleasures that punctuate the long hard days of discovering his body’s new limits that move him deeply.
His eyes widen as he describes coming home to the scent of fresh air wafting through the Stockbridge farmhouse, the sound of Sam breathing as he snuggles on his chest at night, enjoying a meal with Lucy whose strength of character is his inspiration, spending time with his best mate and even the pleasure of painstakingly sending a short email on his iPad using the underside of his little finger.
“It doesn’t take anything spectacular to make me feel great.
“It’s these simple things, the normal things that make me so happy.
“Just the other day Chris and I were sat here watching the golf, like mates do, that was a lovely feeling.
“It was just like the old days when we used to kick back, at that point there wasn’t a care in the world.
“But despite what has changed, I’m not bitter or angry. I’m proud of the fact I don’t think I’m mentally any different to how I was when I went into hospital.
“I’d never in a million years think I’d get through this trauma – and come out the other side. Thankfully, you never have to ask yourself that question but when it was called upon, I did get through it.”
At this point his young son Sam returns from his expedition with a haul of goodies - a toy gun, sword and Transformer model.
Sam presents the impressive haul to his dad with a big grin and seals the deal with a shake of his father’s hook.
Father and son are beaming.
Alex cherishes the moment before finally speaking.
“I wouldn’t change anything - no way.”
'Thank you so much'
“IT’S impossible to find the words to say how lucky we are, it’s completely overwhelming.”
That is how Alex has described the support he has received from thousands of people across the world since his story was published in the Daily Echo.
So far more than £35,000 has been raised for the Alex Lewis Trust in just months.
He has received dozens of letters and donations from as far as Canada and Australia.
And everyone from friends, family, strangers and celebrities including James Martin, Dickie Davis, Justin Rose and Guy Kremer have got involved in fundraising events.
He said: “It’s just incredible.
“To realise there was a huge amount of support outside was a huge help. It has made it so much easier.”
The money raised so far has helped with the costs of his rehabilitation such as funding home adjustments and wheelchair costs. Alex also wants to improve facilities on the ward where his treatment was carried out and one day dreams of turning the trust into a charity to support other civilian amputees due to the lack of information and support available.
To support Alex and his family go to https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/diiy9
His website http://www.alex-lewis.co.uk/ is currently under construction.
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