This 82-year-old English man was barely able to walk because of crippling osteoarthritis in his right ankle.
Now, he is one of the first patients in the UK to receive an artificial ankle made from the materials of bulletproof vests – and he says that he did it so he could walk arm-in-arm with his wife once more.
Neil Shuttleworth says he has “gotten his life back” thanks to the high-tech surgery which uses plastics in the vests to create a hard-wearing implant.
Problems began for Shuttleworth when he tore ligaments in his left ankle after accidentally stepping into an unseen pothole while on holiday in Cyprus several years ago. The pain steadily worsened until it became unbearable due to bone-on-bone contact.
Shuttleworth took regular doses of painkillers until he got a consultation at Spire Leeds Hospital and was diagnosed with severe primary osteoarthritis in his ankle joint. Thankfully, his options for treatment included a newly-available total ankle replacement surgery.
Shuttleworth, who is a retired printing specialist from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, self-funded the ankle replacement surgery since it is not currently available on the NHS.
When he finally opted to undergo the surgery, he says it is because he had just one ambition: to walk down the Promenade de la Croisette in Cannes eating ice cream with Christine, his wife of 34 years.
“When my surgeon asked me what I was wanted from the operation, I said I wasn’t expecting to run a marathon, but I wanted to be the best I could be for my age,” says Shuttleworth. “I said I would like to walk along a promenade hand-in-hand with my wife eating an ice cream, but without the pain I had lived with for far too long.
“The photo we had taken of us doing this was titled ‘mission achieved’. I sent a copy to my surgeon.”
The surgery – known as Rebalance Total Ankle Replacement – uses polyethylene materials that are used to make bulletproof vests, but with extra added vitamin E. Since the hard-wearing implant is made from the durable plastic fibers, it is expected to last much longer than current replacements.
Prior to his injury, Shuttleworth had always led an active lifestyle which involved running and cycling across the UK and Europe. After he stepped into the pothole, which was several inches deep, he says he could not walk more than a few hundred yards as the pain in his ankle was so severe.
“I knew I had to do something about it. My condition had become intolerable, I had virtually no cartilage and if I went over on my ankle the pain was agonizing,” says Shuttleworth. “I have now got my life back.”
The senior is now one of the first patients in the UK to undergo a Rebalance Total Ankle Replacement operation.
After using crutches and wearing a special walker boot for the six weeks following his surgery, Shuttleworth underwent a strict six-week physiotherapy regime. He is now able to walk a couple of miles, and he uses a treadmill on an incline setting in order to build his fitness levels even further.
He recently celebrated his renewed mobility by fulfilling his lifelong dream of flying in a Spitfire plane.
“It was a never-to-be-forgotten experience as I took the controls for quite a while before the pilot took over again and performed the famous ‘victory roll’. It was exhilarating.”
Professor Nick Harris, who performed the surgery, said: “The use of E-poly with its better wear characteristics is an exciting development and will hopefully mean ankle replacements will last longer. The results of Neil’s surgery are excellent and there is at least an 80 to 90% chance the ankle replacement will survive for at least 10 to 15 years.”
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