Leah Washington - From a tragic turn of events to a life full of hope and positivity

8 years after losing her leg at Alton Towers, Leah Washington firmly believes that hard work leads you to the place you want to be and is excited about her future.

In 2015 after finishing college, like many other teenagers, Leah Washington was looking at what was next for her, and had big dreams of going to university. Being a positive individual, Leah looked to pursue a career in teaching and had hopes of shaping the lives of young children.

To celebrate the end of her college experience, Leah took a trip to Alton Towers with her partner, expecting to have an amazing day. After being in the queue for two hours, Leah ventured onto the Smiler ride which would change her life forever.

As the rollercoaster finally ascended with Leah strapped in after the long wait, the train suddenly stopped at the top of the hill with reports of another cart already being stuck at the bottom of the tracks. Unfortunately, this report was overridden by a member of staff, who had initially believed the flagged cart to be the one that Leah was riding. This meant that the ride would continue to shoot forward despite the warning signs, and in turn caused a catastrophic collision between the two carts.

Looking back, Leah, who was sat in the front row remembers the intensity of the impact and then screaming at onlookers who stood taking pictures and videoing of the aftermath to call an ambulance. She also remembers first aiders coming to let them know that help was on its way, but due to a huge amount of blood loss from a severed main artery, Leah does not remember much else. The horrific crash meant that Leah was stuck between metal bars that were folded on top of her, which meant that she spent four excruciating hours drifting in and out of consciousness. When the paramedics arrived, they knew straight away that because of the extent of Leah’s injuries, there was no possibility of saving her left leg. “If it wasn’t for the air ambulance I wouldn’t be here, the techniques that they used on me to save my life were military techniques, warzone techniques, and really specialist,” Leah explained.

Once airlifted, Leah was then treated in Stoke hospital, where she was placed in an induced coma for 24 hours, and then transferred to intensive care for a further week before going into the children’s ward after she had her amputation. Spending a total of 8 weeks at Stoke Hospital, Leah “wasn’t thinking of the future,” and was instead thinking of the present, with her goals changing from going university to just being able to get up and shower on her own. Fortunately, throughout this trying time, Leah had an amazing support system from her parents and older brother who ended up moving to Stoke on Trent from Barnsley during her treatment. She was also not short of other visitors who’s support Leah has said to have helped massively throughout her recovery.

Admitting that she wasn’t aware of the different components surrounding prosthetics. “I knew nothing, but I didn’t want to know anything when it first happened, I was in a bubble,” said Leah. After a while, Leah was eventually introduced to Pace Rehabilitation through a visit from prosthetist Toby who presented three different prosthetic legs, to expose her to the possibilities of the new technologies available that could help Leah rediscover her independence. Shortly after this encounter, Leah began going to the clinic in Manchester which has now rebranded as Dorset Orthopaedic, where she felt in a better place to meet other amputees and begin her journey to recovery.

At first, Leah was seen by her Physiotherapist Carolyn and Prosthetist Howard twice a week at the Manchester Clinic and found that the reality of her rehabilitation was that it was going to be hard work, and travelling from Barnsley to Manchester was exhausting; but the support from her clinicians always encouraged her. “Dorset Orthopaedic are so positive and listen to you. Carolyn has pushed me to do anything that I wanted to try, and would offer to come with me as well; half the things I have done are down to them. You know that if there was anything that you needed you could just ring them and they’d be there,” Leah explained. In June of this year (2023), Leah has been an above knee amputee for 8 years, and now only visits the clinic around 5 times a year. Leah has been able to meet amazing people with shared experiences and values this time immensely.

Aside from her successful rehabilitation, one big achievement for Leah was getting rid of her prosthetic cover and embracing the prosthetic itself, because she was so young when the incident happened, appearance was a big thing. Through the support of her friends, family, and partner, over the years Leah has been able to build her confidence and confirms that comfort is more important than appearance. It took Leah a while to come to terms with how her prosthetic looks, but now enjoys showing off her componentry.

The future is looking bright for Leah and after over 8 years together, Leah’s boyfriend who shattered both his knees in the accident, proposed in 2022, and the two of them look forward to getting married. “We’ve been through so much together; to have somebody that went through the same journey and still be together, and to support each other it’s amazing. He’s my best friend” Leah said.

Being so close to death, Leah has found her positive attitude comes from the support of others and she reminds herself that “life’s too short, you don’t know what is around the corner, you need to go and live your life. If someone asks you to do something, say yes.”

When asked if she had any advice for those who have had a recent amputation, Leah said “it’s hard, but it will get better if you put the effort in, you will be rewarded in the end. If I’d not done all the physio that I had done, I would not be as active as I am now, listen to your prosthetist, listen to your physios, be determined, and it’ll get easier.”