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I could wake without my leg

PUBLISHED: 14:47 13 January 2002 | UPDATED: 11:10 03 March 2010

ONLY when he opens his eyes from the fog of anaesthetic, will injured Suffolk pilot Andrew Harding know if surgeons have amputated his leg.

The harrowing decision on whether to amputate or not, has been hanging over him for months, since doctors feared it was infected as they tried to repair his broken body after a plane crash in South Africa in January 2000.

ONLY when he opens his eyes from the fog of anaesthetic, will injured Suffolk pilot Andrew Harding know if surgeons have amputated his leg.

The harrowing decision on whether to amputate or not, has been hanging over him for months, since doctors feared it was infected as they tried to repair his broken body after a plane crash in South Africa in January 2000.

The results of bone tests at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge - which would have helped clarify the decision - came back inconclusive and now the only way to find out for sure if amputation is necessary, is to go into the operating theatre.

Mr Harding from Milden, near Hadleigh, told the Evening Star today that the surgical team, who are due to operate on him in four weeks' time, will make the decision for him when he is actually anaesthetised on the operating table.

The 47-year-old father of two teenage sons, is resigned to the devastating effects of an amputation from the knee downwards.

He said: "If there is bad infection there, they will amputate and if not, they will leave it. They won't really know what's going to happen until they are operating, and I won't know until I wake up.

"This is the only way they can find out what the results really are. The surgeon will do whatever needs to be done."

He said in a way it had been a relief, for the heartrending decision to be taken out of his hands, and totally place his faith - and fate - in the capable skills of the experts.

He said: "If the leg came off in the accident then you have no choice but to live with it. But it's difficult when your leg is actually still attached to you.

"I'm not really worried. This is something I've been facing and waiting for a decision on, for some while.

"At least the decision has been taken out of my hands and in some way that's a good thing. They will do what's best for me."

Mr Harding, the director of Ipswich-based Deben Holdings, which has property interests including the Golden Lion Hotel and Church's café bar in Ipswich, has said that his greatest loss would be not to be able to ski again with his sons James, 17, and Richard, 15.

Mr Harding was almost killed when the aerobatic biplane he was a passenger in failed to recover from a mid-air spin, and plummeted to hit the sun-baked ground at 120mph.

He took the full force of the impact, and was knocked unconscious for six weeks.

Most of his right foot and half of his face were torn off, when the undercarriage ripped through the bottom of the plane

He shattered his back in three places, damaged internal organs, and ruptured spinal nerves so severely that tendons in his left foot had to be surgically rebuilt.

There was a strong possibility that either one or both of his feet would have to be amputated at the ankle. For a man who thrives on perilous adventures such as stunt flying - the very activity that almost claimed his life, the news was devastating

But he hoped to make a full recovery and once he returned to his home in Suffolk, he even set about designing a prosthetic ankle for himself. However six months after the accident he was able only to stand and not walk. Then the doctors feared infection had set in, in his right leg.

Now, a year on from the accident which nearly claimed his life, that dilemma on whether to amputate, or not, has been taken out of his hands.

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