“I’m Jake the Peg, diddle-iddle-iddle-um, with my extra leg, didle-iddle-iddle-um”, the class bully would quietly sing to me in my early years of primary school.
I was born with a significant difference in leg length and I walked with a pronounced limp.
Surrounded by an amazing network of family and friends they gave me courage and fed my self-belief. I did not shy away from the bullies. Often saying to the boy who sang Jake the Peg, “I’ve got one and a half legs, not an extra leg! Get it right!” He was a knob.
I would be lying if I said there weren’t days that I hated being different.
I was a specialist’s nightmare, refusing to wear a built-up shoe and at 13 years old, following a suggestion to amputate my foot, I stopped going altogether.
I’m beyond thankful that my parents respected my decisions. My leg length definitely shaped me as a person, but I am grateful it never defined me. I established a career, married, gave birth to two beautiful girls and juggled life as we working mums do.
In 2015 at the tender age of 40 years, I started to consider what the future might look like for me and I didn’t like it. I saw my physical self deteriorating into a twisted old woman unable to walk.
In search of options I found my orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Ivan Astori, and for the first time in 27 years I faced my reality and it was tough to hear.
Listen: The women getting Botox because it helps with their careers. (Post continues.)
Although the mood was broken when Ivan viewed my most recent x-rays, as requested when scheduling the appointment, and they were 28 years old with my adolescent growth plates still visible.
I discovered my congenital birth defect had a name Fibula Hemimelia, that I don’t have a cruciate ligament and my left leg was 12.5 cms shorter than my right. Wow – all news to me! To say I felt blasé about my own condition was an understatement.
Ivan presented me with two options, one being to extend my femur then return later to do the tibia. The other to do both bones at once. I chose the latter. I was fairly sure Ivan wouldn’t get me back twice.
Family and friends were initially shocked. I had never indicated that I had a desire to extend my leg, so their supportive smiles were also laced with concern.
I had prepared myself by visiting a psychologist as I was keen to find ways to minimise my daughter’s worry and fear. Watching your mum go through a procedure that comes with extreme pain and discomfort can be traumatic.
This operation was to be life-changing for all of us. The femur and tibia would be broken. A 'Precice Nail' would be inserted into my femur and the ligament around my knee would be released, the tibia would have the Ilizarov frame fitted, my Achilles tendon would be frayed to allow for the extension.
Each bone would be extended by 0.75mm per day to allow the muscles, tissue and tendons to stretch. At times I couldn’t believe I was actually going ahead with the procedure, but I did not feel afraid.
I negotiated 12 months leave from work. My husband returned to work locally and my Mum moved into my home for four months to nurse me and help our family while I was out of action. Little did I know what we were about to embark on physically, emotionally and financially.
It was not an easy ride. The bones in my leg were separated millimetre by millimetre daily for 120 days. I rarely slept longer than one hour at a time. I dreaded every long pain filled evening. I spent most days on my back my leg propped up by pillows, I needed help to shower on my own and some days, even with a cocktail of drugs on board and heat packs covering every square inch of my leg, I would cry myself to sleep as my mum rubbed my back.
I felt like I had reverted to a child. I could see the pain reflected in the eyes of my family and friends but I could not protect them, it was too raw and unmanageable. Each new day I reassured myself this was not forever. This was not the chronic pain others live with daily, I had not lost permanent use of my limbs nor would I need to be helped to shower in months to come. Patience and perspective became my mantra.
My femur was lengthened six cms and my tibia just over five cms. In total my leg was almost 11.5cm longer, now I just needed to grow the bone. The pain eased almost overnight once the lengthening stopped and slowly my strength returned as I impatiently waited for the new bone to consolidate over the next five months. There were many hiccups and disappointments but finally, in February 2017 the bone was considered ready and the Ilizarov frame was removed.
It was not long before I tossed away my crutches and began walking on my new long leg (with the help of my fancy moon boot). It was surreal and fabulous.
Physically I love how tall and straight I feel. Friends, family and work colleagues regularly comment on how tall I am now, of course I’m no taller just a whole lot straighter.
Mentally I am stronger than I ever knew possible. These days my new found perspective is applied to everything in life.
As another year in my journey passes I still walk with a slight limp, my knees may not be even and my leg looks like Frankenstein’s bride. However, I can now almost run (on the beach if the sand isn't hot) and for the first time in 43 years I can pull on a pair of jeans without having to adjust their length. Right now that is worth celebrating, the rest will come in time.