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Amazing Adam: The amputee pushing the limitations of losing a limb

A student who had his leg amputated is hoping to inspire others by taking up rock climbing.

Adam Islam, a digital media technology student at Birmingham City University, was born with a condition called proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD) where the left leg is shorter than the right. He has been a patient at The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital (ROH) since birth.

He said: “Over my life I had many complications with my left leg, and they resulted in numerous surgeries to reconstruct and realign parts of my leg. Though those surgeries were successful, they didn’t help me in the long run as I ended up having further issues with my leg that could not be solved with just one surgery.

"To continue living the way I was living I would’ve needed numerous surgeries for the rest of my life, which I didn’t want.”

In September 2018, problems with his health meant Adam deferred his place at university for a year. Later that year, however, he found himself faced with another devastating decision – to have his left leg amputated, which took place at ROH.

“My experience with ROH was amazing. After my amputation, I stayed in hospital for over six weeks and the hospital took care of me and did not let me go home until I was in the correct condition. The nurses were the best part; they played the biggest part in my recovery. On sleepless nights they would take their time with me, they would be there when I cried in pain. They consoled me when I felt like giving up. After my amputation, the first six weeks were the hardest of my entire life and the nurses at ROH are what honestly helped get me through it all.

“I remember the names of almost all of my nurses and those names still stick with me for the rest of my life.”

He was given a prosthetic leg in June 2019 but doesn’t wear it in public yet.

“The biggest adjustment for me personally has been people staring and looking at me. It is very obvious that I have a limb missing as I do not walk on a prosthetic leg out in public just yet, currently I still use a wheelchair. At first this was very upsetting to me as they obviously felt ‘sorry for me’ or that is how I felt.”

When Adam started university that September, he was depressed. But a chance encounter with a rock climbing group at university helped change that.

“I felt like I wasn’t as able as everybody around me. I felt weak and powerless. But in my second week at the university, I came across the BCU rock climbing team, and I knew I needed to join.

Adam Islam at Redpoint Climbing Centre Birmingham 1

“It symbolised a lot to me; it was a way for me to prove to myself that I was as strong as anyone else.” Adam spoke with the team about joining, but admits he didn’t think they thought he was serious about joining as he was in a wheelchair. “But since joining I have proved to myself that I am not weak or powerless. I have also unintentionally opened a pathway for other students physically like myself to challenge themselves by doing something crazy, like rock climbing.

“I live by the words “be loud and proud” which is why I share my story and am happy when people look at me and ask me questions. I never had an amputee who could give me an insight into what to expect before my amputation, so my biggest adjustment in life has been accepting that I can give that insight to future amputees or to family members of amputees that are seeking advice."

He was recently featured in Birmingham City University’s ‘I Am BCU’ campaign, which showcases the “confident, proud and diverse community of students at BCU.” In it, he can be seen rock climbing.

He also has plans to create his own video content for YouTube showing his journey as a new amputee to “hopefully give future amputees some insight into what to expect.”

What advice does Adam have for patients who may be facing a similar situation?

“It’s going to be okay. You may feel like your life will suddenly have ‘limits’ after you lose a limb but that is not the case. There is always an alternative route to doing almost anything and amputees can do it all if we want it badly enough.

“Amputation is not the end, it’s a new beginning.”

As well as his support from ROH, he also cites The Amputation Foundation, a charity recommended to him by staff at ROH, as a great source of help to anyone facing amputation or having had an amputation. The charity gives amputees the opportunity to have a home visit from an amputee who can give you advice in person, and share their own stories.