Scotland’s Leading Amputee Charity
Cor Hutton was just 43 years old when she lost both hands and legs below the knee to sepsis. As well as having to deal with the obvious physical challenges, she had endless questions that, unfortunately, remained unanswered.
“I had no idea what life was going to be like,” Cor tells me, recalling those early days after surgery. “Would I be able to drive? Would I walk? I had no idea at all. The medical staff were amazing but they’ve never been in that position so it’s hard for them to be of help.”
Cor had her own small business and a four-year-old son and admits she was at rock bottom.
“Nobody could tell me what it was going to be like. There were no charities in Scotland that could do that. The whole reason for setting up Finding Your Feet was the experience that I had when I lost my limbs.”
Amazingly, despite (or because of) her own struggles, Cor decided to set up a charity with the aim of helping others who would face the same issues.
“Selfishly, it was more about helping me,” she admits. “You’ve lost your mobility, your identity, your independence, everything. It was a pretty horrible time. My family saw how low I was and that I needed a reason to get up in the morning. That reason was the charity. As it happens, that’s the whole ethos of Finding Your Feet. We are the family that helps you get up and on your feet again… so that you can help somebody else.”
The charity helps at every stage, beginning with those who are facing amputation and, like Cor, want to know what life is going to be like.
“We can help right from that point,” Cor confirms. “We’re in hospitals with people, pre and post-operation. We do counselling and peer support. The main thing is to get people out of isolation in their home and get them involved and working with their peers.”
This begins with ‘Ampu-teas’ where people can get together for a coffee/tea with others in the same situation. They can ask questions, allow themselves to laugh and gain positivity and encouragement.
“Hopefully that’s enough to push them onto the next event,” says Cor. “We do swimming and gym… that covers those troopers who want to be more energetic.”
“People get offended by words. A lot of people don’t like being called an amputee or they don’t like calling it a stump. People get upset by it. Also amputee is a label and we wanted to give it a stronger label. Everybody has gone through some kind of fight, everybody has survived some kind of trauma and grief, so trooper seemed to fit the bill.”
However, this does sometimes cause confusion, as Cor explains: “Every so often someone will say ‘I thought you were just ex-servicemen’. The ex-servicemen are very well looked after so they don’t often need us but they’re very welcome.”
Of course, every charity relies on grants, funding and donations and Finding Your Feet is no different.
“We do our own fundraising events,” Cor confirms, “like abseiling off the Forth Rail Bridge. I love to do challenges like that. It’s like I’m living my own bucket list, it’s great!”
In addition to the aforementioned abseil, Cor has also completed the London Triathlon and was the first female quadruple amputee to climb Ben Nevis and Mount Kilimanjaro.
“Sometimes we piggy back on other events, like the Kilt Walk,” she continues. “Then there’s our supporters’ own events – people may run a bake sale or a car boot sale. On top of that we’ve got grants – that can be big lottery ones or very small ones. Then on top that, we try to get big corporates that want to help.”
The charity also has a hub in Paisley, which generates rental income from those hiring space, be it for a yoga class, art class or conference.
But Finding Your Feet wants to be accessible to as many amputees as possible so it runs clubs in numerous other areas including Glasgow, Dundee, Edinburgh, Fife, Aberdeen, Inverness, Dumfries, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire.
“Ayrshire is a relatively new one for us but it’s starting to grow,” Cor tells me. “The idea is to have the Ampu-teas, then swimming and the gym… people going regularly with a good number.”
In addition to the swim and gym sessions (with qualified coaches), other activities available include woodwork, archery and mosaic making. Things like this can even lead to opportunities further down the line.
“Half of our staff are amputees. We’ve learned what their skill set is and tried to fit them into the workplace. It’s a job that matters and a job that we all care about.”
The charity has certainly come a long way since Cor first set it up ten years ago. Bearing in mind that all activities are provided free of charge, I ask how our readers can help.
“By donating and fundraising,” she tells me. “Also volunteering. In Ayrshire it would be a buddy system, helping people to get to the club… volunteer drivers so we don’t need to pay for taxis. Also expertise. We have to pay accountants, lawyers, plumbers, electricians and joiners when we need them. If there were companies that would consider giving us six hours a year of their time… that doesn’t sound much of an ask, and maybe that would mean we didn’t have to pay for those services. Accountancy is a big one for us.”
Something else Cor is keen to highlight is awareness.
“A lot of the public think that amputation is a million miles from them. But if you look at the causes of amputations then you’d realise it’s not. We’ve got kids born without limbs, that’s a congenital thing. But as you move up you’ve got meningitis. In teenagers you’ve got cancers. As you get older you move into accidents and addictions. We’ve got quite a few motorbikers and quite a few drug, smoking and alcohol addictions… they give you vascular problems. Then you’ve got diabetes – type 2 tends to be lifestyle and age. About 40% of our amputees are diabetic.”
I’m staggered by that statistic which, I suppose, is exactly her point.
“We all know somebody that suffers from cancer and we all know somebody that’s diabetic. Mine was sepsis.”
In Cor’s case, it all started with a bad cough. She contracted pneumonia and strep A. Septic shock then began to shut down her body, organ by organ.
“I wasn’t expecting to survive the night. While the body is fighting to give your vital organs oxygenated blood, it’s starving your extremities. I was given the shocking news that I had to lose my hands and legs.”
She tells the story in a very matter-of-fact manner. In fact, she even manages to inject a little humour.
“The day they told me I was to lose my legs, all I could think about was that I’d never wear another flip-flop. I love flip-flops!”
She may not be able to wear flip-flops. For the last four years, though, she has been able to wear gloves.
“I am Scotland’s first ever double hands transplant. I lost my hands and got new ones. That’s a big deal for me! I waited five years for a donor… and I think about that donor – who’s obviously not here now – and her family, and how that must feel. I’m here getting excited about my new hands and how good they are, and they’ve got a completely different memory. I’m aware of that and sympathetic to that.”
This awareness and compassion is, I’m sure, part of the reason why Finding Your Feet has been able to help so many people.
“In the last ten years, I’ve always known that thinking about other people feels much better than worrying about yourself. So, we try and push that a wee bit.”
She tells me about a friend of hers, a physiotherapist whose thesis subject was the life expectancy of vascular amputees following their amputation. She picked 70 people for her study and at the end of her two-year period, half of them were gone.
“She had worked out that they were the ones who were isolated and alone and had basically lost the will to live. In her eyes, Finding Your Feet had found a cure and given people a reason to live.”
She goes on: “You know you’re giving them a bit of fulfilment and positivity but it never occurred to me it was life-saving. But we all hit the wall, even me, from time to time. My feeling is to keep busy and don’t think about it too much and that works for me. Other people need the counselling and the focus.”
Talking of focus, Cor is now focusing on the charity’s ten-year anniversary which will include a whole year of celebrations and as much fundraising as possible. That includes a trek to Machu Picchu in June.
“I was always one for challenges,” she concludes. “It pleases me to think that you’re still you at the end of it, you can still get you back.”
For more information, visit www.findingyourfeet.net