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Meet the man who got his new leg at Royal Preston then went back to have his career there

Posted on - 16th April, 2024 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Health, Preston News, Sharoe Green
Steve Whalley
Steve Whalley

A man is marking 50 years of association with Royal Preston Hospital stretching back to a fateful motorbike accident in 1973.

Steve Whalley lost his right-leg in a life-changing crash in October 1973 and, after surgery at the then Royal Preston Infirmary, he was fitted with an aluminium prosthetic which he wore in public for the first time on his 18th birthday on March 15, 1974.

He was able to return to work at Ribble Motors as a result of the surgery and prosthetic before being made redundant 1989. He then went on to work as a Cardiac and Orthopaedic technician at Royal Preston Hospital.

Read more: Bot like giant vending machine added to pharmacy at Royal Preston Hospital

Steve said: “I wouldn’t be here today, retired with two kids and a house, without the NHS, and the services the Trust provides.

“Your average prosthetic leg costs around £3/4,000, and I can’t count how many I’ve had over the years…I wouldn’t have been able to afford that sort of cost every time I needed a new limb, and if I hadn’t had a prosthetic limb, I wouldn’t have been able to work and achieve what I have in my life.”

Steve wasn’t expected to survive his operation and told the story of how the ward sister filled out his death certificate to save herself a job in the morning.

He said: “The ward sister had filled out a death certificate and later confessed to me that I wasn’t expected to come back from my operation. She finished her shift while I was having the surgery and didn’t want her first job the morning after to be filling in a death certificate, so she made it out and put in the drawer for the doctor to sign.

“The morning after she asked the doctor to sign it, and he said ‘Why? He made it!’ She pulled the curtain back and I there I was!”

The orthopaedic surgeon who performed Steve’s life-changing surgery was Robert Symon Garden, whose son Graeme – who qualified in medicine at King’s College London – became well known for writing and performing in the television sitcom The Goodies, as the voice of Bananaman.

Steve would go on to work in the NHS 15 years later, when a vacancy came up in Occupational Therapy at Royal Preston Hospital, and he was taken on as a Cardiac and Orthopaedic Technician.

The department was next to the Limb Centre at RPH, which proved handy for Steve’s ongoing repairs. He said: “There weren’t many people with prosthetics then. When I was discharged, if my leg hurt, I had to take aspirin. It was aluminium, with a spring, and the only person they could look to emulate was Douglas Bader, a Second World War RAF pilot who crashed and lost both his legs in 1931.

“It regularly broke or I wore it out every six weeks or so. My department was next door, so I could just nip in and get it adjusted.”

Steve also worked in motor sport and can claim to have patented a revolutionary pit board which is still used today in Formula 1.

His ability to innovate led to one creation that has been taken around the world by motor racing’s finest: “I was talking to a consultant here about motor racing. He was thinking of buying a race car and asked me to set a team up for him as I had some experience and contacts. We used to go all over the country, and one day he missed a pit board at Silverstone. I told him ‘I called you in’, but he couldn’t see it and he blew the engine up.

“So, I said I’ll make one you’ll never miss, and mine is still used in Formula 1 – it lets the light shine through the back, which makes it easier to see. It was a simple idea, but it’s accepted as one of the better models.”

Victoria Bateman, Prosthetic Professional Lead at the Specialist Mobility Rehabilitation Centre, has known Steve for the best part of four decades, and said: “Steve’s significant anniversary highlights a personal journey of resilience, and showcases the invaluable support provided by the NHS over the decades.”

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