24 January 2023

Former miner says surgery to straighten leg has ‘given me my life back’

A former miner who lived with major injuries to his legs after being involved in a serious accident has thanked the limb reconstruction team at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals for treatment which has left him with a straight left leg again for the first time in 34 years.

Graham Parker, 60, of Greenhill, Sheffield, underwent treatment at the Northern General Hospital which involved fitting a specially constructed frame to his left leg to re-align his ankle, so it was directly below his knee. The success of the treatment meant that he was able to stand on two legs that were straight and the same length for the first time since the accident.

Following the surgery and with the help of the nursing and physio team, he has been able to get back to walking and even running without any of the daily pain which previously marked his life.

Graham said: “I will never forget the first day I stood up on two legs that were the same length for the first time in nearly 34 years. I knew something amazing had happened. I had to keep looking at my leg over and over again; it was straight and looked amazing.”

The accident which left Graham with life-changings injuries happened in 1988 on the pit lane in Mansfield where he worked as a miner. He was standing behind his car when another vehicle ran into it, shunting it into him and snapping his legs.

It left him with compound fractures and multiple other serious injuries to both legs. A six-inch section of bone in his left leg was dead and he was given the option of an amputation, but instead opted for an 18-month programme of treatment to rebuild it. The leg was able to be saved, but was left with a significant bow which meant it was shorter than the right. It was 12 years and 30 operations before all the initial damage from the accident was repaired.

Despite the deformity of his leg, Graham managed to get back to living an active life. He played rugby and completed challenges including a parachute jump from 3,000ft and the climb to Machu Picchu in the Andes.

However, his left knee began to wear out and become too painful for him to do any of the physical activities he enjoyed or get around easily, so in 2014 he was referred to the Northern General to see if it could be repaired. He was advised to extend its life as long as possible in the hope that improvements in treatment would enable something to be done in the coming years.

It was in 2021 that he saw a knee specialist who referred him to the limb reconstruction unit and consultant orthopaedic surgeon Simon Royston.

Mr Royston proposed fitting a special frame, called an Ilizarov frame, to Graham’s leg, a treatment for which Sheffield is a specialist centre. The surgery involved deliberately breaking the tibia, realigning it and letting it heal. Graham was given two spanners to tighten and loosen the frame appropriately to ‘correct’ the bone as it healed.

Graham said: “Simon and I talked through what I wanted to achieve and how we could do it. I wanted my leg straight and the same length as the other one. He proposed the frame to stretch my ankle and everything above it through 20 degrees, so my ankle would once again be directly below my knee.

“I have never felt pain like I did during the stretching process, but a couple of months later I had joined a gym and was strengthening my left leg, all with the fabulous support of the physio team.

“Once the frame was removed in February 2022, the steady process of learning to walk again started. I can now walk with hardly any limp, for significant distances and all without the regular, daily pain that I had before or having to put a wedge insole in my left shoe to stop me stooping.”

One of the targets Graham set himself was to be able to run again, which he achieved just before Christmas.

“I think the last time I ran prior to the operation was in 2006. I guess this video is testimony to what can be achieved if you find the right care and support and are willing to take on the challenge to achieve your goals.”

Mr Royston said: “The tibia can be slow to heal, especially when it has been damaged previously, but Graham healed faster than average and that is partly down to how he applied himself to the rehab. The patient does most of the work. It is great to see him doing so well.”

Graham plans to climb Ben Nevis this summer to raise funds for the unit at the Northern General and ultimately hopes to climb Kilimanjaro.

“When I climb Ben Nevis it will be an achievement for me, but more than that, it will be a testimony to the way the NHS has cared for me for over 34 years and made sure I could achieve a life-time goal. Raising funds will be a small way of expressing my gratitude for the incredible support I got from the surgical and nursing team.

“Putting it simply, they gave me my life back, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.”



1) Graham with Ilizarov frame fitted
2) X-rays of tibia before and after surgery


Graham walking and running on treadmill for first time post-surgery: https://youtu.be/VmODub2ZRO8  

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