Jaco here. At the end of last year (2020), I encountered the most courageous woman I have met in a long time. Her name is Erika Bandjes. Today, I have asked her to share her story, her uncertainties, her fear, her pain, and her excitement with every person out there.
I believe there are so many potential amputees who are suffering because of a malformed limb, or an injury. The frustration of having multiple operations trying to make it better and not getting results can often be just as painful as the daily pain itself. Erika was someone who endured this pain, and her story is true, from her heart, and it ends well. Please take time and read this; it might just help you!
My story begins in late 2009, early 2010. My foot began to give me issues, that came with excruciating, constant pain. I sought help from my house doctor who began treating me for gout, and continued treating me for six months with no pain relief.
Upon my final visit to him, he called me a hypochondriac.
Shocked to say the least, this “hypochondriac” took her x-rays and began looking for an orthopaedic surgeon. It was in November 2010 that I met surgeon 1 who diagnosed me with a degenerative foot condition after taking new x-rays and discovering that there were no bones in my foot. We began discussing options, and we agreed that I needed an operation to rebuild my foot, the muscles, sinews, and tendons.
The downside to this option is that the results of the operation may only last 6 years, and I’ll have to have another one. Out of options, I decided to go for the surgery. Funnily enough, after that is when I first met Jaco Deist – he fitted my moonboot!
True to what my surgeon had said, just over 6 years later I went back due to foot issues. It was December 2017 when I had my second major foot operation where they inserted four screws and a steel plate to hold my foot together.
Almost a month later, I was told to give it time, but the truth was that my body was rejecting the screws, and nothing was fusing to the metal. I was walking flatly on the inside of my right foot with each step more painful than the last.
In July 2019, I visited a different doctor. This one operated again, putting in eleven screws and a steal plate in the front of my foot, and one in my ankle.
This was also unsuccessful and extremely painful. The screws in my foot broke, and I was told that removing them would cause more damage. So, doctors took bone from my right knee and tried to repair my foot with that. I was in indescribable pain, and to make it worse, I became confined to a wheelchair.
I wasn’t able or allowed (by doctors’ orders) to walk around. I wasn’t able to go to shopping centres, or anywhere where there was no wheelchair access. I was stuck, sore, and so frustrated. Because of the high amount of painkillers I needed to consume to keep the pain semi-tolerable, I started losing my mind; I had no idea what day of the week it was, I couldn’t hold a conversation or concentrate. I no longer knew what I was doing.
I did know one thing, though. I never wanted to have another foot operation again.
In 2020, I turned to two renowned surgeons for advice. The first one told me that we would retry the screws and another steel plate, but there was zero guarantee that this would work. If it didn’t work, we would have to amputate.
The second one was a highly respected surgeon who told me that I have metal poisoning and that all metal in my foot has to be removed. He told me that he could save my foot, but that it would come at a very, very high price. He told me that in order for it to be successful, I would be bedridden for a year. When he said this, I could already feel that now familiar insanity rising in the back of my thoughts. A whole year in bed? And even then, it’s not guaranteed that this will work, and the topic of amputation will come up again.
I had countless debates with myself, I worried about my quality of life, my relationships, the major change that amputation would bring. I worried about just about everything. I was terrified and unsure when I decided to open a whole new chapter for myself – I went in search of Jaco Deist again.
I arrived outside his office with no appointment, in search of answers about prosthetics. Luckily, he was available to see me! He sat with me, in a very understanding and sympathetic way, he explained how he works. And we discussed my options.
Together with surgeon number 4, Jaco decided where it would be best to amputate so that we could successfully fit a prosthetic. He came with me to the surgeon, and we all had lengthy discussions regarding my best interests.
On the 14th of October, the day of amputation, I was terrified. Even after everything had been decided – I was still wondering whether I was doing the right thing. I left my crutches at reception and walked to the ward painfully and wait nervously.
Jaco came in to check on me, and I asked him whether I was doing the right thing. It was a very emotional interaction, and he was extremely supportive. I would see him next in the theatre.
On the 23rd of November, it had been 5 weeks and things were going extremely well. I had my fitting of my liner, prosthetic socks and prosthetic and I was exuberant!
A week later, I was able to walk and even jump (with a therapist and crutches)! I could WALK!!!! I was also pain free for the first time in what felt like forever. I could walk some days without crutches too. In December, I swam in our pool, I could drive my car. I found it so liberating to adjust to my new situation!
Not all great news, however. The wound on my leg was draining more than it should have been, and it oozed brown sticky fluid. That wasn’t a good sign.
On the 6th of January 2021, I needed another operation. The muscles have torn from the bone on my residual limb and the wound didn’t stop weeping. It turns out that the doctor had to cut further up than he thought, and I may not wear my prosthetic for another 4 weeks. My good sprits took a huge knock and I found it extremely difficult not to lose hope or faith.
On the 28th of January, I was still on antibiotics and battling with the prosthetic. I am staying focused on my goal to walk again without pain and I know that this will happen if I just keep my chin up. It’s important to know that you are not alone.
For the last two weeks Erika has been absolutely elated with her progress and so are we! She is up and walking daily without crutches, and she is feeling incredible. We are so proud of her courage on this journey, and we will provide further updates on her soon.