Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Teenager who lost both legs astounds medics

Ryan O'Connor
Ryan O'Connor

An inspirational teenager who lost both legs after heart transplant complications has astounded medics with his speed in learning to walk again.

Ryan O'Connor (18) is being fitted with prosthetic legs after he underwent a double amputation late last year.

The young Dungiven man was born with a congenital heart condition and would have died without the heart transplant he received in January last year.

But Ryan suffered a series of setbacks after the operation, including circulation problems which led to his legs having to be amputated.

Just a few months later, however, Ryan has taken medical staff by surprise with his determination to learn to walk again – and more.

And, not stopping there, he now has set his sights on competing at the Paralympics.

Ryan was discharged from a Newcastle Hospital in February and since then has spent five days a week at Musgrave Hospital in Belfast, where he has undergone intensive physiotherapy, including being fitted with prosthetic legs.

Last week staff wanted Ryan to try on his new legs and stand up, but this wasn't enough for the teenager, and he immediately asked to go for a walk.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph from his hospital bed, Ryan said he was not going to stop at walking.

"When I got my new heart my hope was that it would leave me fit enough to play soccer, but obviously, given everything that has happened, that isn't possible any more," he said,

"But I wouldn't rule out the Paralympics.

"I definitely want to get into sports of some kind when I eventually get my final legs, but even though it might take me a year or two, it is on the cards for sure.

"There is no point in stopping or giving up on my plans just because of what has happened."

The young man explained: "When I got these legs fitted the physios just wanted me to stand in them to see how it felt, but I wanted to see how it felt to walk in them so I asked could we not try them out.

"The staff were a bit shocked and weren't expecting me to walk that quickly, and in fact I am getting discharged as an inpatient on Friday – they weren't expecting me to be ready for that either.

"These ones are shorter than my actual legs were, but they have to be like that because it is easier to balance. Eventually I will have legs with knees fitted and they will be nearer my the length of my own, but for now they'll do.

"I like to be able to do everything they ask me but I have my own goals, too, and I can't wait to get home and get on with the rest of my life."

The legs Ryan will walk out of hospital on Friday will be the first of several sets he will need. Adaptations with knees and height will follow in the weeks and months to come.

It has been a great journey for Ryan's parents as well. One of the proudest moments in any parent's life is when their child takes his or her's first steps and this was a moment Ryan's mother and father, Donna and Declan, had to experience all over again.

Donna explained what it was like sharing Ryan's first steps for a second time.

"We were just in awe of Ryan, all the staff wanted him to do was to stand up but Ryan being Ryan said he wanted to go for a walk," she said.

"They took him over to the hall and set him between the parallel bars and he walked the entire length – he was a bit unsteady but it was a sight I didn't dare hope that I would see again.

"I still can't quite take in just how marvellous his recovery has been. When I think back to when we were preparing ourselves for the absolute worst and then looking at him walking again, it doesn't seem real.

"We are so grateful to the staff at Newcastle and the staff at Musgrave, they have given us back our son even though I still can't fully relax."

Quote

"We were just in awe of Ryan, all the staff wanted him to do was to stand up but Ryan being Ryan said he wanted to go for a walk. He was a bit unsteady but it was a sight I didn't dare hope that I would see again. I still can't quite take in just how marvellous his recovery has been. When I think back to when we were preparing ourselves for the absolute worst and then looking at him walking again, it doesn't seem real."

Donna O'Connor, mother of double amputee Ryan O'Connor

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