At the age of 10, Ben Moore took a brave decision.
He chose to have the lower part of his right leg amputated and was fitted with an artificial limb.
Ben was born with a condition known as fibular hemimelia – giving him a foot with only three toes and a leg that failed to develop.
It left him struggling to walk and frequently in pain.
Ben was fitted with an artificial leg after his amputation – which he says was fine for walking around school, but which did not match his sporting ambitions.
Frustratingly for a boy already keen on sport in primary school, he could not keep up with his friends.
However, his prosthetist Clare Johnson recommended him to become one of the first children to be fitted with a false leg designed specifically for sport by the NHS – and now his sights are set on competing at a future Paralympics.
Ben, now 13, says: “It has turned out really well. All my PE teachers like it that I’ve got a prosthetic leg and that I’m still doing sport. They say I have a lot of grit and zest!”
He was fitted with his new blade just before Christmas and switches between that and his other prosthetic leg depending on what he is doing.
“Ben has been empowered by his blade,” says Clare. “We hope it will give him a level playing field so he can compete with his peers and participate in more sports with a lighter prosthetic.”
Clare adds that although she was able to make an attachment for Ben’s disordered right leg as he was growing up, it was not possible to include the sort of components that could give him a spring in his step.
After three weeks practising with the blade, Ben returned to Clare’s treatment room at Brighton General Hospital and tried jogging, running and playing indoor tennis.
He has also just taken on his able-bodied cousin in a straight race and won.
“The blade feels good,” says Ben. “The spring of it is the bit that makes me go faster.”
“I wanted the blade to do more running, so I didn’t have to stick with cricket and stuff like that to do with upper body. I wanted to do more things with my lower body, run faster and get a bit more speed in football.”
How do blades work?
- Ben’s blade is made from plastic, carbon fibre and steel with a silicone liner around the stump
- The blade stores energy from each step like a spring, releasing it as he runs forward
- Britain’s Jonnie Peacock won Paralympic gold in 2012 and 2016 wearing a similar blade on his right leg
There are about 1,500 children in England who have lost all or part of a limb and 1,100 of them either lack a leg or have one which does not work properly.
It is the first time the NHS has fitted some of them – in Brighton, North Cumbria and Luton – with false legs especially designed for sport.
While Ben has his blade, a child from Cumbria has been given a water limb called a “swim fin” which will make swimming with friends possible.
The 1.5m programme is intended to help what the NHS says will be “several hundred” children each year.
The cost of a blade, together with the follow-up training and assessment, is estimated at around 1,000, but it could be several times that amount in the private sector.
Clare says that by preserving the health of the children who get prostheses, the scheme could actually save money.
She says it also supports the health service’s campaign to encourage healthy lifestyles among children.
“I don’t like the idea that there are a lot of obese children and couch potatoes. I like to think that I have given (Ben) the blade and that he will show to other children that if he can do it, then everyone can do it. Sport is for everyone, not just a small elite.”
Ben’s mother Kathleen is proud of her son’s determination to play different sports, which have also included touch rugby.
“He’s been up against it,” she says, “but despite everything he fought back and he’s a little fighter to this day. Now he’s got the blade, the sky’s the limit.”
Don’t bet against seeing Ben competing for Great Britain in a future Games.
Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-38517649