Following a devastating loss and life-changing injuries, Caroline Rutley-Frayne has been determined to live her life to the fullest, raising money for charity, spending time with her family and giving back to others by being an active member of her community.
Caroline and her husband, Simon were riding together on his motorbike in November 2008 when they were hit by a dangerous driver on the way to work. Tragically, Simon lost his life and the crash resulted in Caroline losing her right arm and leg. She spent the next two months in hospital, with her right leg amputated immediately, followed a year later by the elective amputation of her right arm due to the extensive nerve damage that she had suffered.
After leaving hospital, Caroline spent the first 6 months in a wheelchair before being referred to her local limb fitting centre where she received her first prosthetic leg. She struggled throughout this time with feeling unstable on the leg and she had constant issues with her socket not fitting comfortably. This knocked her confidence and made it difficult for her to make the most of the mobility opportunities offered by her new prosthesis. “I wanted to walk so badly but I just kept falling over” she says.
“I decided there must be a better solution” explains Caroline as she looks back on her search for alternatives that would help her to regain the active lifestyle that she had enjoyed before the accident. Following her initial meetings with her prosthetist, Matthew Hughes from Dorset Orthopaedic, Caroline received a socket that was fitted more closely to the shape of her lower limb and was far more comfortable. She also began to walk using an Ottobock C-Leg which offered more stability and confidence for her to walk. She was later offered a trial for an Ottobock Genium prosthetic leg which, like the C-Leg offers the wearer stability and confidence when walking and standing: “once I had tried it I felt like I never wanted to come off it” she explains.
Whilst Caroline was amazed by the capabilities of this advanced prosthetic leg, she felt that using a socket was no longer the right option for her, saying “I was still struggling to walk as far as I wanted to”. She decided to pursue a new possibility that could offer her the opportunity to wear a prosthetic leg without the use of a socket: a pioneering process known as Osseointegration. “I met a guy from Sweden who had the procedure and I was really jealous that he could so easily put his leg on and take it off.”
Osseointegration is a procedure which removes the need for traditional sockets for prosthetic limbs. The surgeon fits a titanium implant directly into the bone allowing for a prosthetic leg to be connected to it. People who have had the Osseointegration surgery are often able to begin walking again in as little as 2-3 weeks. After extensive research Caroline decided that Osseointegration would be right for her in July 2015. Just three months later, Caroline flew to Australia to begin the process with one of the world’s leading Osseointegration surgeons.
Almost two years on from the successful procedure, Caroline continues to visit Dorset Orthopaedic for regular check-ups and is able to walk for miles at a time thanks to her Osseointegration and new Genium Bionic Prosthetic System. She enjoys a range of activities from hiking in the countryside to using her IT background to give back to her community as a volunteer in the computing section of her local library. She also enjoys spending time with her family, including her four grandchildren.
Another way that Caroline is planning to give back is by raising money for charity: over the summer she has been hiking the South West Coast Path Walk which stretches over 630 miles of the UK coastline from Minehead to Poole for Force Cancer Charity and Self Harm UK. Before the loss of her arm and leg she had been an active person, but for around 7 years after the accident she had been finding it difficult to get around. This meant that she had to slowly build up her fitness and just one year after her surgery, she was amazed to find she was able to walk 10k: “I can now walk for miles; the most I have ever walked in one day is 16 miles and I probably could have walked a little bit more!” Caroline even took her passion for hiking to new levels this summer when she walked 110km of the Camino de Santiago, the famous pilgrimage walk in Spain.
Caroline explains that amputees looking for the right prosthetic solution need to have a positive attitude; “you can’t change what’s happened so you can only try to be the best that you can be. I have never stopped looking for better.” She also says that it’s important to set realistic goals and not feel too much pressure when trying to become more active: “what I have done is set myself a goal and then break it down into smaller and more manageable sections. After my initial operation I wanted to do a 10k walk but I had to train gradually. Think big and build yourself up bit by bit.”
She also says that whilst Osseointegration may not work for everybody it has been the right solution for her. “Without the Osseointegration I wouldn’t be doing this walk, there’s no way. Other people would be able to do it with sockets but I just couldn’t imagine that for myself. It’s still tough but I am able to walk further than I ever imagined I could after the crash.”
Caroline says that people often tell her that they find her inspirational. “I don’t see myself in that way but if people can take something from what I am doing and it does inspire them to achieve more then I am ok with that” she says.