Given their life experiences, both men are committed to using their knowledge and skills to ensure that no amputee in WA feels isolated, know they can connect with others and are aware of Limbs 4 Life.
While Andrew and John have become firm friends and volunteer colleagues with a commitment to supporting others, their life experiences and reasons for amputations differ.
Forty-seven-year-old Andrew’s life has been one of commitment, life changes, professional diversity and personal passions. Andrew has been married to “his beautiful wife” Kaye for over 30 years, and together they moved from Melbourne to Perth 23 years ago. Andrew is a keen saxophonist and plays it in his band ‘Two or More’. Andrew considers himself a “baby on the amputee journey” having had his below knee amputation eighteen months ago.
For many years Andrew was a primary and secondary school music teacher, but had a career change into the disability sector in recent years. Andrew currently works to raise awareness of disability and provide support to people with disabilities across two roles. At Leadership WA Andrew is an ‘Experience Coordinator’, assisting people with disability who participate in their Leadership Course to undertake community projects, a role that allows him to work with participants from their initial application right through to their graduation. Andrew also works for the National Disability Service (NDS) in the ‘Project Able’ program, which sees Andrew and colleagues with various disabilities deliver presentations to secondary school students regarding the array of employment opportunities in the disability sector. In both roles, Andrew feels “privileged to support people of all ages to learn about their own personal skills which in turn can assist them to consider disability sector employment, feel empowered in current employment or confident to make career change decisions”.
Andrew’s amputation took place a year and a half ago, but was essentially “40 years in the making”. Andrew was run over by a truck when he was 12, resulting in a foot deformity that could not be corrected via surgery and eventually led to osteomyelitis and five years of associated agonising pain. Despite many unsuccessful medical interventions, Andrew started investigating amputation as a means of “eliminating pain and improving mobility”. Over that time, Andrew undertook considerable personal research and joined the ‘Amputees Online Forum’ on the Limbs 4 Life website (which predated the launch of the ‘Amputees – Limbs 4 Life’ Facebook Group) to ask questions of experienced amputees.
At this time, Andrew also learned that someone he knew in a professional capacity was an amputee and upon realising this asked if he could talk to him about an array of topics related to living life as an amputee. “Dale, who has been an above-knee amputee for over 30 years and is also a qualified psychotherapist, and I used to meet once a week for six months prior to my amputation. I was able to ask questions that only an amputee could understand and answer. Dale didn’t only offer me peer support but, as a psychotherapist, he also wanted to ensure that I was mentally prepared for the life-long change that was about to take place,” explained Andrew. It was only after his amputation that Andrew learned that Dale had also been providing informal support to Kaye who, like Andrew, wanted to understand what life as an amputee would entail and how she could best support Andrew during his transition.
It was this experience that made Andrew acutely aware of the importance of peer support, and led him to travel to Melbourne in 2016 and be trained as a Limbs 4 Life Peer Support Volunteer.
John spent most of his professional life working in the finance and banking sector while also dedicating himself to community service. John married his “childhood sweetheart” Nancy many decades ago, after meeting as teenagers in the small regional Victorian town of Hamilton. Together they are parents to very caring children and enjoy being part of their grandson’s life. Like Andrew, John also moved from Victoria to Perth. However, John and Nancy’s move was only a mere five months ago, and has allowed them to live closer to their WA based daughter.
John’s professional career in the banking system started after his secondary schooling. John’s banking career lasted for 32 years and saw him move up the ladder from working in a local bank, to working as a District Branch Manager overseeing many regional branches to executive roles in the head office in Melbourne. During his career John also undertook tertiary studies in finance. After leaving the bank John worked as a financial consultant which saw him work to support farmers, agrifood businesses and other commercial entities. But with regional farming in their blood, John and Nancy also ran their own small cattle farm near Warrnambool until recent years.
Upon retirement John’s new ‘job’ saw him become a trained Peer Support Volunteer which not only enabled him to assist new amputees but also act as a Limbs 4 Life advocate with regional medical and allied health professionals. Since moving to Perth John has maintained this commitment and he can be regularly found dropping off Limbs 4 Life resources to hospitals, medical centres and community organisations. “Talking about Limbs 4 Life and dropping off materials around Perth is not only a great way of sharing information but it also means I’m discovering Perth, my new home, along the way,” enthused John.
John’s amputation took place six years ago after developing osteomyelitis. “I had a pretty simple broken ankle accident but unfortunately it led to an infection, 15 surgeries and ongoing pain”, recalled John. After living with pain, infections and no permanent resolution in sight John opted for an amputation in 2012. “I can’t say it was an easy decision, but I realised that an amputation would provide me with a quality of life that I hadn’t had in years”, shared John. Considerable research and the support of family helped John to feel he was making the right decision. “Nancy said that after my amputation I had a glow in my face that she hadn’t seen since breaking my ankle all those years ago,” recounted John.
While John wasn’t aware of Limbs 4 Life prior to his amputation it was while visiting his prosthetist that he saw a poster seeking Peer Support Volunteers. Upon seeing the poster, and “looking into Limbs 4 Life”, John decided he would love to give back to the amputee community he now belonged to. “I took part in Limbs 4 Life’s Volunteer Peer Support Program training and since joining I have relished the opportunity to support others and promote the organisation wherever I can,” explained John.
When John had his amputation he didn’t receive formal peer support, but got through the experience with the support of family, friends and a good dose of humour and friendly banter. “I really feel that the old adage of ‘Aussie Mateship’, empathy, and looking after each other in a positive way is what peer support is all about. I know this approach worked for me and I’ve seen it work for others who are just starting on the amputee journey,” described John.
Indeed, supporting and understanding the needs of others comes naturally to John. Just one example is John’s support of the NDIS “since it was first mooted as an idea”. While John was undertaking his post-amputation rehabilitation in Geelong he was made aware of that the NDIS was being proposed and would potentially be headquartered in that city. “I realised that the NDIS would be of enormous benefit to the hundreds of thousands of Australians who live with a disability, so I started writing letters to Members of Parliament voicing my belief in it. I was even invited to the inaugural NDIS meeting in Geelong which was a great opportunity to hear about how it might roll-out and it reinforced my belief that this was a good step forward for ensuring that people with disability are better looked after,” explained John. Since moving to Perth John is now advocating for the roll-out of the NDIS there so that “no one in the west is left behind”.
John and Andrew are now key members of the ‘Advocacy and Peer Support for Western Australian Amputees’, a network that came together in 2015 through a partnership between People with Disability WA, and in particular Samantha Connor, and Limbs 4 Life. During 2015 Samantha Connor and Limbs 4 Life coordinated an Amputee Forum in Perth which led to the development of the network and the establishment of a dedicated Facebook Group. The overarching mission of this group is to provide amputees in WA with a chance to connect in person or via the Facebook Group, work collaboratively to advocate for their rights, and receive socially inclusive peer support.
John and Andrew are now playing key roles in the ‘Advocacy and Peer Support for Western Australian Amputees’ and in mid-October coordinated a meeting which allowed WA amputees to socialise, and capture information about amputee-specific needs when campaigning for the full NDIS roll-out in WA. “Our Amputees WA Support Group is about friendship and support, but with the NDIS issue looming we are keen to focus our attention on this, advocate in conjunction with Limbs 4 Life, and collaborate with other WA disability groups to make sure that our state doesn’t lose access to the NDIS,” explained John.
The WA Government is the only one in Australia not to have signed the bilateral NDIS Agreement which will assure full roll-out of this system. While it has allowed for trial NDIS sites in some parts of WA, it is yet to be confirmed whether the WA Government will move to full scheme roll-out. If WA does not move to full NDIS roll-out it will be the only state in Australia not to do so.
Both Andrew and John are extremely worried and concerned that the NDIS will be denied to people with disability in WA. “In Western Australia amputees are not considered as having a disability which limits their access to certain disability-related services and equipment. We are seeing the great outcomes being achieved by NDIS participant amputees in other states and territories, and we don’t want amputees in WA to be disadvantaged by not having access to it. This is unfair and we will advocate on behalf of our fellow amputees to ensure that, while we might be in WA, we are not left behind,” outlined Andrew.
John and Andrew acknowledge that they wouldn’t have been brought together if it wasn’t for Limbs 4 Life. “Before I moved to Perth in early 2016, Melissa Noonan told me about the ‘Advocacy and Peer Support for Western Australian Amputees’ and suggested that I connect with them once I was settled in. It didn’t take me long to join the group and, through that, build a friendship with Andrew,” said John. As both Andrew and John hail from Victoria they have also discovered some interesting connections. They were “blown away” to realise that Andrew’s wife Kaye also grew up in Hamilton, and were even more amazed to learn that Kaye grew up as a great school friend of one of John’s younger cousins. Both families have enjoyed discovering that, despite moving from the east coast to the west coast, “it really is a small world after all”. Andrew and John are not only grateful to Limbs 4 Life for bringing them together but for also providing them, and fellow amputees, with access to an organisation “with a culture that places amputees and volunteers at the centre of everything”. John is glad that Limbs 4 Life is there to ensure that Australian amputees and healthcare professionals “have access to up-to-date information, resources, peer support, research and staff who are proactive and always willing to support people when they need it the most”.
Andrew believes that Limbs 4 Life is an incredibly valuable organisation “for the systemic advocacy undertaken, for fighting battles on behalf of amputees at high levels, for not being a business that shuts the door at 5pm and for always treating people with respect”. Both John and Andrew are proud to be part of the 150 plus strong Peer Support Volunteer team within Limbs 4 Life, and Limbs 4 Life is enormously appreciative to both men for the empathetic support they have provided to many amputees and families seeking support.
Limbs 4 Life thanks John and Andrew for sharing their stories and for working hard to build a community of amputees in WA. Limbs 4 Life looks forward to working with them, and the wider WA amputee community, to fight for the rights of amputees and advocate for the roll-out of the NDIS there.
If you live in WA and are keen to connect Andrew, John and other amputees you may want to join the Advocacy and Peer Support for Western Australian Amputees.