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Firefighter amputee returns to full service following motorbike accident

A firefighter who had his right leg amputated below the knee following a road traffic accident has defied the odds by returning to full service in little over a year. Matthew Bourner, of Nantwich, was clipped by a car whilst traveling to work on his motorbike in August 2019. After initially being told it would be two years before he would walk again, Matthew returned to his job at Manchester Airport in October 2020. Thanks to the expertise of clinicians in Royal Stoke University Hospital’s A&E and orthopaedics departments Matthew has now become one of only three amputee firefighters in the country to work for the fire service.

Since his accident Matthew, 50, has also climbed Mount Snowden, completing the Pyg trail - one of the hardest routes.

Matthew has since thanked clinicians at University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust (UHNM) for their role in his care.

Matthew said: “After the accident I looked down at my right foot and could see that it was in a bad way. I phoned work to let them know I wouldn’t be able to come in so they could arrange cover. Fortunately a lorry driver stopped at the scene of the accident and applied a tourniquet to my leg, which made a massive difference to my survival. The attending paramedics from the North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust were brilliant too and I know that some of them have been following my progress.”

Matthew was taken to Royal Stoke University Hospital’s accident and emergency unit, where he was cared for by Dr Ann Marie Morris, consultant in emergency medicine, and Mr Nicholas Neal, consultant orthopaedic surgeon.

Matthew continued: “If not for the care and attention of Ann Marie and Mr Neal I wouldn’t be here now. Ann Marie was the first person to lead my care and we think so highly of her for what she has done. I had to make a quick decision to have my leg off, but Mr Neal managed to save my arm. All the nurses on the ward were fantastic too.

“I actually saw Ann Marie in Nantwich recently when I was sitting outside having a coffee. I recognised her from the Critical Condition TV programme and I was sure she was the doctor who looked after me. I went over to have a chat and it was great to be able to see her again and say thank you. She has made my life possible again.”

After initially being told it would be two years before he would walk again, Matthew was able to take up office work just four months after the accident and returned to full duties in October 2020.

Matthew said: “We had a few bad days when we were initially told that it would be two years before I could walk. I was really worried about my job and how I’d ever be able to do it again. But in the end I’ve been able to get back much sooner than anticipated. I take fitness very seriously and was determined to do as much as I could to keep myself in good condition, even if it involved getting up at 5am in the morning to go for a swim.  

“Within a few months I was back at the gym and now I’m doing circuit training and weights. The staff at the Heywood Hospital limb centre were brilliant. They supported me and challenged me to do something new every time I went.

“My team at work have also been amazing. They clubbed together to pay for a ramp to be installed outside my house and to have the pedal in my car converted to a left-foot accelerator so I can drive again.”

Matthew and partner Melissa Pape, 46, of Nantwich, climbed Mount Snowden in June of this year with a group of friends from the Area 51 gym in Crewe.

Matthew said: “The climb was hard going because we chose the Pyg trail, which is one of the hardest routes. It’s really steep and involves clambering over boulders. People we met kept stopping to shake my hand on the way up and when I got to the top, loads of people clapped.

“If I can do it, anyone can do it. Ultimately when something like this happens you have no other choice but to carry on. Melissa and I took the approach of making small goals and taking each challenge at a time. Whether it was getting up the stairs or driving, we would draw a line and think what we could do to get over that line. We tried to be analytical, to take a sort of risk-assessment approach for each event and to plan how we’d deal with it as best we could. I think it’s really important to approach situations like this with a positive attitude and a sense of humour. It helps to get you through.”

Dr Ann Marie Morris, consultant in emergency medicine, said: “It was a pleasure to meet Matt again and to see him doing so well. In A&E we are the first port of call for many patients, but caring for a patient is a team effort. Our work and that of Mr Neal and his team has given Matt the best possible outcome and it’s great to see that he’s fighting fit and making the most of every moment.”

Mr Nicholas Neal, consultant orthopaedic surgeon, said: “I remember Matthew well because of the nature of his presentation and his amazing personality, which has enabled him to make such a prompt and spectacular recovery from seemingly devastating injuries.

“The x-rays we took of Matthew’s right foot and lower leg showed very extensive damage, with nearly every bone in his foot and talus shattered. There was also very extensive soft tissue damage so unfortunately the only option we had was to amputate the foot and lower leg. X-rays also showed that his hand was virtually separated from the forearm just before the wrist, but fortunately we were able to reconstruct this.

“Matthew has obviously made the best of a very difficult situation and I am very pleased to hear that he has even managed to climb Mount Snowden. His story just shows what can be done with determination and the right application.”

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