Drumming to his own beat

As many parents and carers of children can appreciate, the life of a child is often one full of activity, adventure and trying out new things for the first time. Knox Gibson, an eight-year-old boy from Orange in New South Wales, is no different.
Knox Gibson

Knox plays soccer, rugby, swimming, cricket and is learning the drums. Knox is the son of Kate and Jack, and little brother to eleven-year-old Hamish and nine-year-old Arabella.

Knox is described by his parents as being “very confident, stubborn, determined, independent and cheeky”. Knox also has a limb difference, having had his right arm amputated below the elbow after a traumatic accident when he was four years old.

The Gibson family is a “busy one” with all children attending school and participating in various sports. In addition, the children might soon be able to create their own band that would see Hamish play guitar, Arabella play piano and Knox play drums. Both Kate and Jack also work full time meaning that, in addition to be an extremely organised household, they are also supported by their very involved extended family members.

It was the support and love of their close family and friends that Kate and Jack called upon when Knox had a farm accident which led to the amputation of his arm in 2011. “Knox was being cared for by his grandparents when, despite being under the careful watch of his Grandad, he accidentally walked behind a ride-on lawnmower and became trapped underneath,” told Kate. “The accident was no one’s fault, just one of those things that can happen, particularly when it comes to very active and adventurous children on farms,” explained Kate.

Kate and Jack were notified by family members about Knox’s accident just as they arrived home from work; a very frightening experience for both. “Jack’s father called to tell us that there had been an accident and, because they live 45 minutes outside of Orange, they were driving to meet the ambulance along the way. That they were going to meet the ambulance part way made us realise that it was a pretty severe accident,” said Kate. “We met Knox at Orange Hospital and learned that his right arm was gravely injured, and that he also had deep lacerations and a fracture of his right leg. Initially, and before we even knew what Knox’s injuries were, we were taken to a small private room at the hospital so knew we were facing some very serious news,” explained Kate. Within a short time, doctors advised Kate and Jack that Knox would need to be transferred by helicopter to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney and were alerted to the possibility of an arm amputation. “My sister was a nurse and, due to her knowledge and experience, she also thought an amputation might be necessary so did a great job preparing us for that possibility,” said Kate.

 The helicopter could only accommodate one parent, so Kate accompanied Knox to Sydney. Meanwhile, Jack drove three and a half hours to meet them at the hospital in Sydney. Kate recounted that “it was the longest few hours in my life, as I was alone in the hospital receiving information about Knox’s condition while he underwent emergency surgery”.

It was during this time that the Orthopaedic Surgeon came out of surgery to inform Kate that two options were available. One was to continue surgery that would last for up to sixteen hours, could possibly save a “non-functioning arm” but would come with significant surgical and postoperative risks that could be fatal to Knox. The second option was to amputate Knox’s arm below the elbow and leave him with a residual limb that had a much better chance of functionality, would pose less risks to his life and allow Knox to be fitted with a prosthetic arm.

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Kate recounted asking the doctor “what would you do if it was your child” to which he responded with “I would amputate”. Kate knew that Jack, who was still en-route to the hospital and out of contact, would agree with her decision. It was decided, that for Knox to have a normal life and to survive his injuries, amputation was the best option.

 “I can’t thank the staff at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead enough for saving Knox’s life and for performing a successful amputation that now allows Knox do virtually anything that any other eight-year-old can do,” Kate emphasised.

Knox spent four weeks recovering in hospital after his surgery; a time that included treatments, a final surgery to close his wound and meeting with various specialists from the Westmead Limb Clinic. “For the first few days Jack and I were running on adrenaline and we barely slept. It took a couple of days for Knox to come out of the ‘danger period’ but until that we just couldn’t sleep. After that, and while Knox was recovering, we would take it in turn alternating who would stay with Knox, as we didn’t want him to ever feel alone,” explained Kate.

Family were of enormous support to Kate and Jack during Knox’s hospitalisation. “We were in Sydney the whole time so relied on our family in Orange to take care of Hamish and Arabella”, said Kate. This didn’t just include keeping up their school and extracurricular routines, but also providing them with the emotional support that being away from their parents and sick brother brought. “Our parents and extended family members were amazing in looking after our children, Jack and I. Each weekend our parents would bring Hamish and Arabella to Sydney so that they could spend time with Knox and us. We couldn’t have got through that time without our family,” recounted Kate.

Friends and their children’s school were also enormously supportive during Knox’s time in hospital. Kate commended the school attended by Hamish and Arabella “who kept an eye on them and ensured they were coping OK” and thanked friends “who brought food, fresh clothes and anything we needed to the hospital and the motel we were staying at”.

While Knox was recovering he was attended to by the Westmead Limb Clinic which provided the family with medical, social work and occupational therapy support. “The Limb Clinic team were fantastic and nothing but caring and Knox-centred throughout,” said Kate.

The Limb Clinic introduced Kate, Jack and Knox to a number of Prosthetists, allowing them to choose one that best suited Knox’s needs. “In the end we chose APC Prosthetics and have worked closely with Cameron Ward, from APC for four years now. Cameron has a great relationship with Knox and clearly loves working with children”, expressed Kate. Being so active Knox has had many limbs replaced due to ‘rough and tumble’ breakage and because he is growing and has been introduced to a range of prosthetic arms to test and try over the years.

Cameron is always available to assist us when Knox needs a new prosthesis, and we tend to see him in Sydney every six months,” explained Kate. Knox now uses a myoelectric prosthesis as well as a fixed recreation one. In addition, Knox has a variety of assistive devices that are screwed onto his ‘recreation arm’ to allow him to ride his bike, play cricket, play the drums, use a skipping rope as well as a range of other activities. Knox took up drumming lessons a year ago, driven by a love of AC/ DC’s music and beats. Indeed, the whole family are going to Sydney in November to see AC/DC perform and “Knox will no doubt be mime-drumming throughout the concert,” laughed Kate.

“Knox doesn’t wear his prosthetic arm all of the time but often uses it for specific activities. All the assistive devices are incredible, but the one Knox uses to hold a drum stick and play music to is quite amazing,” said Kate. “As Knox loves pirates, he also has a ‘hook arm’ which he likes to use for dressing up and fun,” laughed Kate.

Since his accident Knox has been undertaking occupational therapy through the Westmead Limb Clinic to ensure he is using his prosthesis to the best of his ability. “Knox has been working with Nadia, an Occupational Therapist in Sydney, for many years now. Nadia has played an important role in assisting Knox to learn to use his left-hand, because previously he was right-handed, and she has always assisted him to adjust to a new prosthesis and any assistive devices,” explained Kate. As Nadia is located in Sydney, she is now working with the family to source an Occupational Therapist in Orange who can assist Knox with more regular fine motor skills training for his left hand.

Knox is a very confident child who is not self-conscious about his limb difference. “Knox accepts that his limb difference is just a small part of who he is and is quick to say ‘it got chopped off by a lawnmower’ if anyone asks why he is missing his arm,” said Kate. Knox is also a very adventurous and curious child who amazes anyone who encounters him with what he can do. “Knox is incredibly fearless and nothing holds him back, you only have to see him tackling the opposition on the rugby field to see that,” revealed Kate.

Knox is incredibly close to his two siblings, his grandparents, extended family members and family friends. “Knox knows he is loved and supported by so many people and, the fact that he has lost an arm, is secondary to who Knox is. Knox is himself first and foremost, and his limb difference is just a small part of who he is. No one treats him any differently, and I think it is that attitude that has helped him to continue to be an active kid who will give anything a go,” said Kate.

Kate firmly believes that having a positive attitude has helped Knox and the family adjust to life since his accident. “We are so lucky that Knox is alive, he could have died that day. We are so grateful that Knox is still with us and, while his life path is now a little different, he can still do anything he sets his mind to despite the loss of his arm,” said Kate.

Kate also praised the Limbs 4 Kids program. “We love that Limbs 4 Kids now exists, as there was nothing like this available when Knox had his accident. The Limbs 4 Kids website means that vital information is all in one spot and being able to connect with other families and share experiences via the Facebook group is just fantastic,” enthused Kate.