Family man Courtenay Humphreys spent almost ten years using basic mechanical prostheses following the loss of his leg in a motorcycle accident. Earlier this year, he finally received an advanced prosthetic leg, known as a Microprocessor Controlled Knee (MPK) through a new NHS fund designed to support many hundreds of people living with limb loss every year. Courtenay explains more about enjoying his retirement, staying active and spending valuable time with his grandchildren whilst enjoying the stability and reassurance provided by his new MPK, the C-Leg 4.
Courtenay was enjoying the early years of a fulfilling retirement following 30 years’ service in Gloucestershire Police when he lost his leg in a serious motorcycle accident. During the last years of his career he had been fit and healthy, enjoying a range of active positions as a Police Officer, including working in a crucial role within the force control room. After his retirement at the age of 49 he worked as a part-time delivery driver as well as a qualified DSA CBT motorcycle instructor based in Bristol, being an experienced, lifelong motorcycle enthusiast.
Courtenay was just 52 and travelling home from a motorcycle meeting in Abergavenny, Wales on a Sunday afternoon when he had his accident. He had been attending a police-organised Bikesafe event and was heading home to catch a football match on TV, when a catastrophic mechanical failure led him to lose control of the bike on a tight bend. He collided with the metal safety barrier dividing the carriageways and was propelled over it. As a result, he suffered a badly broken left wrist and serious injuries to his right leg, which was crushed between the bike and the metal barrier. When he arrived at the hospital Courtenay found out that it wouldn’t be possible to save his right foot and his leg was amputated through the knee before later being revised to above the knee after complications. In total, Courtenay had five surgeries, three blood transfusions and spent five weeks in hospital.
Following his discharge from hospital Courtenay was initially unable to use prosthetics due to sensitive skin grafts that covered his residual limb. After a few months he was given the all-clear to begin trying prosthetic solutions and was fitted with a mechanical knee: “I was referred to the excellent Bristol Centre for Enablement where I was fitted with a prosthetic leg with a free knee.” He explains that whilst he was very happy with the NHS programme and benefitted from a number of improvements to the leg over the years, the mechanical knee had some limitations: “It was ok to walk on but you had to kick your leg forward with every stride then plant your heel and transfer the weight. There was very little suspension and when your knee reached in front of your foot it would think you were sitting down and collapse on you. It was a difficult technique to master and I had regular stumbles and falls, usually due to the foot catching on the ground on anything other than a completely flat, smooth surface.” explains Courtenay. It was during this time that he was offered an assessment for other prosthetic options and was recommended an earlier version of the C-Leg. However as the product was not yet available via the NHS, he opted to continue with the option he had been using. “I had been getting around ok and was still feeling young and fit so I decided to stick with it.” Courtenay was used to a busy lifestyle and so he continued to pursue sports and activity despite the challenges posed by a mechanical limb.
It wasn’t until Christmas 2016 that Courtenay began to feel that he was truly struggling with his mechanical knee. He had a heavy fall when walking a very short distance down his drive and damaged the knee, suffering bumps and bruises. When he returned to his NHS Centre his prosthetist told him that the older product was beyond repair and suggested that he should be put forward for new NHS funding that would allow him to receive a Microprocessor Controlled Knee. Upon trialling the C-Leg 4 Courtenay realised the difference that it made to his life and his prosthetist was delighted by how quickly his active patient adapted to the new limb. With his mechanical leg Courtenay had to constantly work hard to move forward and feared falling over whereas the C-Leg 4 offered a far more natural gait. Where previously he had to put in a huge effort even to make it to his local shops, stopping for regular rest breaks, suddenly he was able to complete the journey much more easily.
Launched in 1997 and in its fourth and most advanced incarnation, the C-Leg 4’s greatest strength is helping people achieve independence. Numerous features including real-time swing and stance phase control combined with strengthened stumble recovery support mean that the user can take every step with confidence. The new intuitive stance function recognises when the person has stopped and dampens the knee in a flexed position to offer maximum stability and comfort. Providing greater mobility, the C-Leg 4 adapts to all walking situations in real time, whether on level ground, stairs, ramps or varying surfaces. Walking backwards is closer to natural, anatomical movement than ever before.
Courtenay credits his C-Leg 4 with providing him with more confidence. “The knee is stiff when you walk through which means that you feel secure and it’s ready if you begin to stumble. The tension then begins to fall away as you step, offering you a stable and measured pace. You can walk normally, not swinging or kicking or going side to side. I use far less energy walking this way and I feel safer, smoother, quicker and 100% more confident. If I stumble the leg stiffens again and it adjusts itself immediately.” Being new to the C-Leg 4, Courtenay’s confidence is growing day by day. He recently visited an outdoor show with his family and realised that he was already walking without concern over the grassy and bumpy terrain. When going down steep slopes and leaning forward he would previously suffer from the fear that his leg would collapse. With the new C-Leg 4 he has gained more and more faith; his grandchildren have been especially impressed to see him walking down the stairs at his daughter’s house and letting go of the railings when going down slopes, something he found extremely difficult previously. “I can’t believe how good it is; it’s transformational” he says.
Courtenay is now looking forward to continuing his active lifestyle, with a few extra-special improvements. He is the proud owner of an electric assisted bicycle and is looking forward to enjoying more mountain biking adventures by putting his C-Leg 4 into cycling mode. Previously, he would need to ride his mobility scooter to enjoy leisurely walks with his wife which was a struggle for them both. Courtenay is now able to walk alongside her, arm-in-arm and hasn’t sat in the scooter since. His grandchildren are also enjoying the benefits of their more active grandad; he recently enjoyed kicking a football around the garden with his young grandson. Avid traveller Courtenay is also excited for his next family holiday as the new C-Leg 4 is level with his left knee and so will fit perfectly into the aeroplane seat. His old mechanical knee would have been pushing into the seat in front of him, causing an uncomfortable position that was unbearable on long-haul flights.
Courtenay explains that amputees should never give up when it comes to finding the right solution to maximise their mobility. “You’ve got to have that can-do attitude and remember that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” He smiles as he looks back over the years, regularly returning to his local limb centre with bumps and scratches on the different prostheses he used to wear; “I think I might have given them a bit of a headache but they appreciated that I was keeping busy and pushing my leg as far as I could; they’d rather patch me up after being active than know I wasn’t trying my best.” He emphasises that amputees should not give up and should always try and make the best of each situation. He estimates that with the C-Leg 4 he is using 60% less effort to do everyday tasks than before “this means that I can do ordinary activities so much quicker. I am still going to do my normal things like cutting the grass and going out walking, but I now have the time to improve my fitness day by day, losing weight and becoming more active. I have done everything I can to make the most of this opportunity”.
The C-Leg 4 is now available through NHS England. For more information, download our guide at www.ottobock.co.uk or speak to your prosthetist.