THE butterflies in Jane Hogarth’s stomach felt more like a herd of stampeding elephants.
Like any first-time runner she was nervous about tackling the 10k around Arthur’s Seat and Edinburgh’s streets. But unlike the others taking part in the race in May this year she had two major concerns: would her leg be up the task, and would people stare?
Jane lost the lower half of her right leg 11 years ago in a freak accident, and while she has got up and on with her prosthetic and her life, she had never before put it to such a test, or shown it off quite so publicly.
“I still find it bizarre that I don’t have my leg any more,” admits the 53-year-old glancing down at her trousers. “I look at it and think how odd is that? So having it out there in the open, that was a big moment for me as I have always kept it covered. But I just kept imagining myself crossing the finishing line, that’s what kept me going rather than thinking about my leg.”
Jane was running to raise money for the charity 500 Miles, which was established by quadruple amputee Olivia Giles to fund prosthetics for people in Malawi and Zambia. She’s also backing the charity’s latest appeal, The Big Dinner, which takes place in March and which aims to raise more than £500,000 in a single night for a new clinic.
Yet just a decade ago, Olivia was someone Jane had just “heard about”. Like thousands of others she had read the story of how the high-flying lawyer had contracted such a virulent form of meningitis that doctors had to remove her hands and feet to save her life. “But she was someone they talked about in Infirmary, St John’s and the Astley Ainslie hospitals when I was there,” she recalls. “The nurses and doctors would talk about how strong she’d been getting on with what had happened to her, and there I was about 18 months behind her trying to understand what had happened to me.”
What had happened on October 10, 2003 is hard to comprehend even now. Walking her dog in the Hermitage of Braid Jane returned to her parked car near the Braid Road entrance. Just as she was about to close the tailgate of her car she says she heard a “boom” then realised the car parked behind her was too close.
It had pinned her between the vehicles, crushing her right leg, breaking her right thigh, severely fracturing her left leg, and also leaving her with a broken finger. “I was still conscious and I could only see my broken thigh and finger and I just couldn’t understand how it had happened. It turned out later that another driver had come over the small roundabout at speed and was looking in his glove compartment so didn’t notice the parked cars. He clipped the car which ran into me.
“I suppose it was shock but I couldn’t feel anything physically. I could see things were broken, just couldn’t feel them. I actually sat down and realised I needed help. I lay back and the next thing I remember was waking in hospital.”
It transpired the man who had run into the parked car had called an ambulance. He was later charged with careless driving, and Jane was told he was “absolutely devastated” by what had happened. She shrugs, but says: “There but for the grace of God how many of us have been distracted while driving. I woke up in hospital and knew something was different. I was on morphine so in and out of consciousness. I remember someone saying ‘you do understand we’ve had to remove your leg?’ My left leg was badly broken and my right was too damaged below the knee to save.
“But they did save my knee which is tremendous.” That was down to a specialist skin graft by plastic surgeon Professor Auf Qaba – who also operated on Olivia Giles. “He was amazing,” says Jane. “In fact the care I had in the NHS was fantastic. One you’re discharged though, it’s not so great. You’re more or less left to get on with it yourself.”
Without support from friends and family, Jane, who works as a credit controller for a chartered accountancy firm, admits she would have struggled to cope. She was also, she admits, initially concerned her partner Gerry, whom she’d been with for just 18 months, might not be able to deal with her new disability.
“We had only just come back from a lovely holiday in Spain and I did think ‘how is he going to cope?’. Maybe he would walk away and I wouldn’t have blamed him, but he didn’t. He was hugely supportive and that was one of the things that helped me just get on. I so wanted things to be the way they were before the accident.”
She admits she found her lack of mobility and independence hugely frustrating. She had to wait for her broken bones to heal before she could put weight on them and then, of course, get used to wearing a prosthetic – which she received on Christmas Eve 2003.
“My walking was really quite poor, even with a stick,” she admits. “At the hospital they said I was young and fit, not overweight, so I’d be fine, but I found it much more difficult than I’d imagined. The best thing I found was swimming because I felt a lot of freedom of movement in the water.” But by 2009 her walking had deteriorated so much she went to a physiotherapist.
“I was wearing two badly fitted prostheses which I didn’t realise was causing the problem so I was started on leg strengthening exercises because I had lost a lot of muscle and all my bad habits were reversed.
“But it wasn’t straight-forward. The skin on the stump is so fragile that it can break down really easily, and exercise can cause that so then you have to stop and wait for it to recover.”
By 2011, however, she had recovered so well she was able to start attending gym sessions at Studio EH1 in Albany Street. “They use Power Plates there and I found them very beneficial. They vibrate to make your muscles work harder, but I found that they released all the tightness and tension I had in my left leg, which was still compensating a lot. And they have handles so balance wasn’t a problem.”
Her fitness improved so much she decided that with her 50th birthday looming in August 2011 she wanted to take on a challenge to mark it. “I remembered the launch of 500 Miles with Olivia and Jamie Andrew (the mountaineer who lost his limbs to frostbite) and I wanted to do something to fundraise. I get all my prosthetics from the NHS, I can’t imagine what it would be like in Africa where you don’t have that possibility.
“So I decided on the St Cuthbert Way Walk from Melrose to Holy Isle, which is 62.5 miles. People usually do it over four days, it took me eight, but I was so pleased to have done it.” She wasn’t alone though. “I had Gerry with me and two friends, Susan and Caroline, and we walked as Team Hogwarts. Gerry started coming to EH1 too which was a laugh because he was never known for his exercise regime,” she smiles.
“To walk on to Holy Isle on my 50th birthday was an amazing feeling. We raised £4000 for 500 Miles which really delighted me.”
Not one to rest on her laurels, Jane focused on another challenge – the Edinburgh 10k in May this year. “Mark, my trainer at the gym, was so supportive. Running wasn’t even something I did pre-accident, so to take it on was a big challenge. It took me a year of training to be strong enough. Of course I had issues, my stump started to break down again, my prosthesis struggled to cope as I was asking so much of it – I now have a special running one.
“On the day itself Gerry ran too – but I let him go ahead – and my friends Susan and Karen were with me. I did worry if I would manage it, and it was the first time I’d had my leg on show so publicly, but I just kept thinking about the finishing line.
“I would run for three minutes then walk for 90 seconds. It took me just under 90 minutes and I was so pleased. I got some fantastic fundraising and with gift aid more than £7000 went to 500 Miles.”
Since then she has signed up to a run in Glasgow but had to pull out due to bad weather. But she’s aiming to do the same 10k next year, just to improve her time. “I’ll keep on running now. And I’ll keep doing things for 500 Miles.
“Team Hogwarts will be having it’s own Big Dinner on March 7. It’s a great idea, you have friends and family around anyway, so do it and help someone in Africa get the prosthetic they need. How fantastic is that?”
• To register for The Big Dinner visit http://bigdinner.co.uk/join