Cork amputee gets new prosthesis after decades of pain

CORKMAN Eddie O’Brien, aged 78, who lost one of his legs when he was just two years old, said he has lived in “agony” for most of his life, walking around for 60 years on a wooden limb, held together with leather and aluminum.

However, last week, Eddie’s life was changed forever, as he received a new modern and much more comfortable prosthesis — but only after he reached out to disability advocacy group Physical Impairment Ireland, who told him he was entitled to a new leg.

The Rathcormac native said that nobody seemed to care about him within the health service, as over his lifetime of check-ups and repair visits for his wooden limb, nobody ever made him aware he was entitled to a more functional and comfortable one.

“It makes me angry, and it makes you feel like you’re only a number, like they don’t really care about you,” said Eddie, reflecting on the fact that he has been “through hell and back” walking on his old prosthesis for years, thinking there was no better option.

Eddie O'Brien, an amputee from Cork who has just gotten a new prosthetic leg from a prosthesis manufacturer in Galway APOS, after he spent 60 years walking around on an old fashioned wooden leg he is pictured with his son Wesley.  Photo: Ray Ryan
Eddie O’Brien, an amputee from Cork who has just gotten a new prosthetic leg from a prosthesis manufacturer in Galway APOS, after he spent 60 years walking around on an old fashioned wooden leg he is pictured with his son Wesley. Photo: Ray Ryan

Eddie said that for 60 years, he has been using the same type of wooden prosthetic leg, the newest of which he got about 20 years ago.

A 3kg solid wooden foot, bolted together with aluminum and strapped to his hip with leather, Eddie said the heavy prosthesis often caused him to fall over and left him in “agony”.

“It’s very heavy, and I have a lot of trouble with the stump on my leg. It gets very, very sore,” he said.

“I’m through agony wearing this old leg. If I went to Dublin or somewhere for an All-Ireland match, when I take the leg off, when I come back the stump would be red raw and sore up by my hip.

“I could be walking along on a flat surface, and next thing I could fall over nothing, because it’s so heavy it sticks to the ground, and the older I get, it was getting more awkward.”

Not one to let being an amputee hold him back, Eddie has worked all his life.

From cycling a bike to climbing ladders, he has never let his prosthetic leg hinder him, and said he would always take the attitude of “just getting on with things”.

Now living in Clare, over the years Eddie has received physio and other health supports from both St Finbarr’s Hospital in Cork, and in more recent years Merlin Park University Hospital in Galway.

He said that he was never told that he was entitled to a new prosthesis, in all his visits to both hospitals — even when it got to the stage that he would have to bring his own screwdriver to appointments because the hospital did not have the tools to repair the old-fashioned leg that was no longer being made.

The prosthesis was getting more and more difficult to move around on as Eddie got older, so he and his son Wesley reached out to Physical Impairment Ireland (PII) to see if anything could be done.

Eddie O'Brien, sitting, an amputee from Cork, received a new prosthetic leg from Galway APOS, after spending 60 years walking with an old-fashioned wooden leg.  From left, are APOS director Wesley O'Brien, Andy James, Martyn Moran, Peter Gohery, and Physical Imparement Ireland's Gabe Connelly.  Picture: Ray Ryan
Eddie O’Brien, sitting, an amputee from Cork, received a new prosthetic leg from Galway APOS, after spending 60 years walking with an old-fashioned wooden leg. From left, are APOS director Wesley O’Brien, Andy James, Martyn Moran, Peter Gohery, and Physical Imparement Ireland’s Gabe Connelly. Picture: Ray Ryan

PII put the O’Briens in touch with Atlantic Prosthetic Orthotic Services (APOS) Ltd, an Irish-owned prosthetics provider based in Galway, who successfully applied for HSE funding on behalf of Mr O’Brien, and have now supplied him with new, state of the art prosthesis.

Wesley said it was a bittersweet moment to hear that something could be done, but that his father had needlessly been in pain for years on his old leg.

“We thought it would be that kind of leg forever and there was nothing that could be done for him,” he said.

Wesley said they want to share his father Eddie’s story, in case there are others out there needlessly suffering with old-fashioned prosthetics.

“There’s other people out there that are probably in a worse position,” he said.

“This could actually help somebody else, because these people are probably believing that there’s nothing that can be done.

“We also want to add that we hold PII and APOS in the highest regard, we owe them so much.”

Eddie said he is delighted with his new prosthetic leg, which he hopes will take him anywhere he needs to go.

“I’m very happy with it,” he said. “The leg used to be paining me and sore. Now the new leg is absolutely fine.

“I’ve been through hell and back, and now I’ll be walking till I’m 100.

“There are caring people out there, I found out.”

People suffering

Physical Impairment Ireland national secretary Leo Kavanagh said that the way that Eddie was treated by national hospitals was “a total affront to everything that we are fighting for, for people with physical disabilities”.

“You work hard all your life, and at the age of 78 you’re dragging a piece of wood,” he said. “Prosthetic limbs are now made of carbon fiber and silicone and things like that; they’re certainly not made of wood, and haven’t been for a number of years.

“Eddie’s is an exceptional case, but we have been hearing too much of late of people being told what type of prosthesis they should be using by a person who does not have to use that prosthetic limb themselves, and it’s leading to an awful lot of heartache and heartbreak.”

Mr Kavanagh said that a lack of prosthetists within the HSE is leading to slow processing times for applications for new limbs or upgrades, leaving people waiting without any prosthesis, or suffering with one that is ill-fitted to their needs.

The Saolta Hospital Group, which includes Merlin Park University Hospital, said it cannot comment on individual cases under data protection legislation.

“If patients or families have concerns or questions in relation to the care, they can contact the hospital directly to discuss further,” a spokesperson said.

“The HSE has a feedback, comment and complaints process in place at all hospitals … In addition, anyone who makes a complaint and is not happy with the outcome can ask for an internal review by the HSE or ask for an external review from the Ombudsman or the Ombudsman for Children.”

St Finbarr’s Hospital, who last provided care to Eddie more than 10 years ago, was also contacted for comment.

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