GB hopeful’s home lift proves winner against disability
Aged just 16 Helena Stone, now 22, injured her leg in a kayaking accident in 2013, a week before her GCSE results. An aspiring, Olympic-level kayaker, the sport was her life. “I’ve been kayaking since I was 10. You could say I was pretty obsessive! If I wasn’t training, I was coaching. I was in the top 250 women in the UK by the time I was 16”.
Since her accident, Islington-born Helena has endured years of pain and suffering. In 2015 she was diagnosed with Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) which meant Helena was in constant acute pain. Facing many challenges in her life, her mobility was severely affected. Often bedbound and using crutches to get around the house, Helena could no longer climb up or down the stairs without assistance.
Helena and her parents decided to have a Stiltz Home Lift fitted into their three-storey Victorian home. The compact lift allowed access from downstairs directly to Helena’s bedroom. “My parents always had to help me. I couldn’t get from one room to another without their assistance. With our Stiltz Home Lift I could get around the house safely and independently”.
Over the next two years, Helena’s pain became increasingly unbearable. “I couldn’t cope with university, I was now using a wheelchair, I suffered from fatigue 24-7 as the pain would keep me awake all night. I literally had no control over my life”.
Due to the lack of understanding of this condition, there is very little treatment available other than pain management and physiotherapy. Helena had no idea how she was going to live the next 60 years of her life in constant pain. She joined an online community for people with CRPS and met Hannah Moore, now 23, who told her about elective amputation. “At first, I thought she was mad as it was so extreme. But Hannah has gone from being bedbound and in extreme pain, to being a British paratriathlon champion.
Against NHS advice, Helena made the decision in January 2019 have her leg amputated. Helena and her family had to pay for the operation privately, find a surgeon, gain approval from her psychologist, physiotherapist and pain consultant. “The hardest thing was telling my family as there were huge risks. The surgery only had a 50/50 chance of success. I could suffer from phantom limb pain; the pain could spread elsewhere in my body, so even after amputation, I could still be in the same amount of pain.” Helena had the operation at Princess Grace Hospital, Marylebone in September 2019. “When I woke up, all I could say was ‘the CRPS has gone!’. I don’t remember much, but I know my surgeon did a dance when he knew it had worked!”
Road to recovery
Helena was out of hospital within a week. She started physiotherapy almost immediately, learning to use crutches and transferring to and from her wheelchair. Within a few weeks, Helena had a prosthetic leg fitted and started to learn to walk again. On the day of her four-week post-surgery review, she was given the go-ahead to get back to the sport she loved. She began indoor rowing training that same day.
Helena and her family also had to adapt to her circumstances in the home. “After my amputation our Stiltz Home Lift, which we had installed to help me stay mobile during my CRPS years, was crucial. Stairs and crutches are not a good combination, and stairs are a real hazard. If I were to fall, there would be very nasty consequences for my recovery. From the day I came home from the hospital, I was able to get around the house. If I didn’t have our Stiltz Home Lift, I would have to live downstairs, which would mean I would be separated from my family.”
When using her wheelchair, Helena leaves it on the ground floor, transfers to the seat inside the Stiltz Home Lift and uses her crutches to get around the upper floors of the house. “The most important thing for me and my family is safety. If you have that, everything else falls into place. My Stiltz Home Lift takes away the element of stress, especially for my parents, who were always worried about me being in the house alone in case I had a fall. Now I can get from A to B without people worrying about me. Having a Stiltz Home Lift has made a huge difference in our lives”.
Helena becomes British Indoor Rowing Champion 2019
In December 2019, less than three months after her amputation Helena not only competed in but won, the British Indoor Rowing Championship. An amazing achievement, she has since trained with the Invictus rowing team, attended a training camp with gold medal-winning British para triathlete Andy Lewis MBE and has started training for a para-triathlon. Helena plans to complete in the British Paratriathlon Championships in 2021.
Campaigning to raise awareness of CRPS
Helena is doing everything she can to raise awareness of CRPS. In 2018, alongside Alex Chalk MP, she visited Westminster to speak to senior MP’s, campaigning for more funding to allow research to be carried out into this condition. Helena also appeared on BBC News with her Pain Management Consultant, Dr Deane Halfpenny.
The future is bright.
“Now I no longer have CRPS I can do what I want. Of course, I have to adapt because I don’t have a leg, but there is no reason why I cannot achieve what I want if I put the work in. Before my amputation, this was not an option. Now I have control of my body rather than my body controlling me. I can go back to university to complete my BA in Education and get a job. I have learnt a lot in the last few years and the way I look at it, I can do what I want now, the world is my oyster!”