I lost all four of my limbs to a flesh-eating bug – and I’m loving life: Quadruple amputee father who scaled Ethiopia’s highest mountain after losing his arms and legs in Strep A horror tells his incredible life story
- Watch Alex tell his inspiring story in new episode of our YouTube series My Story
This is the inspiring life story of a quadruple amputee father who scaled Ethiopia’s highest mountain after losing his arms and legs to a Strep A infection.
Alex Lewis, 43, was a perfectly healthy man when he fell ill in 2013 – putting his symptoms down to ‘man flu’.
But when the stay-at-home father from Hampshire collapsed he was rushed to hospital and given a three per cent chance of survival having contracted Strep A, followed by Septicaemia.
Alex lost his limbs after they turned black as well as parts of his nose and lips as doctors desperately fought to save him.
Now Alex has told MailOnline’s YouTube human interest series ‘My Story’ his incredible journey – from living a ‘listless’ existence as an alcoholic landlord to climbing Ethiopia’s highest mountain using the amputee ‘superpower’ that transformed his life.
To watch the full episode click here.
Alex Lewis, 43, lost all four limbs and part of his face due to a Strep A infection
Alex was a perfectly healthy man when he fell ill in 2013 – putting his symptoms down to ‘man flu ‘
Alex, pictured before the illness, said he lived a ‘listless’ existence before his limbs were amputated and struggled with finding direction
Alex has travelled and made it his mission to understand the needs of amputees like himself
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Alex, from Stockbridge, Hampshire, said: ‘I’m loving being a quadruple amputee. I love it. I was never happy being that Alex Lewis with legs and arms. I should have been.
‘I had no lust for life. I was restless. I didn’t know what I was doing. Falling ill was a saviour, really.’
Growing up, Alex had a ‘privileged’ childhood and was sent to public school, he said, but did not appreciate the opportunities handed to him.
‘I had an amazing childhood. I was very fortunate and privileged,’ he said. ‘I went to a prep school and had a very good education.
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‘Unfortunately, I squandered that education, didn’t really put my mind to anything, didn’t focus.
‘I sort of drifted through life as a decorator to becoming a builder and ultimately meeting Lucy, who was a saviour, really.’ Lucy and Alex are still together and share a son, Sam.
In 2013 Alex suddenly came down with ‘cold flu symptoms’ – including painful aches and a bad headache.
‘At that point, I was running a pub in a little village. I was a landlord, but I was alcoholic and for felt I had no real, I had no lust for life. I was restless,’ he said.
He woke up one morning in the house alone with just his dog and could hardly feel his limbs.
‘I couldn’t put my jeans on. I couldn’t put a shirt on. I didn’t know what was going on, what was happening. And I remember a knock on the back door and almost sliding down the stairs, I was living in the pub at the time,’ he said.
‘Somehow I managed to unlock it. The key was in the lock and I sort of then stumbled backwards. And then Lucy opened the door and she was with my stepfather.’
He added: ‘My skin was turning purple, my eyes were completely glazed over. I could barely speak.’
Lucy and Alex’s stepfather called paramedics and he was rushed into Winchester ICU. Within the space of around 12 minutes he had been diagnosed with having Strep A.
Strep A is a common type of bacteria. Most strep A infections are mild and can be easily treated, while some are more serious.
Alex has told of his inspiriting journey – from living as a ‘listless’ alcoholic to living life to the full as an amputee
‘I’m loving being a quadruple amputee. I love it,’ he said
Alex thought he had ‘man flu’ back in 2013 but collapsed and was rushed to hospital
Alex with his wife Lucy Townsend and son Sam (pictured together before his illness)
‘I’m placed on life support. I’ve got no idea what’s going on. And I was on life support for four days,’ said Alex.
‘Now, over the course of that period of time, my chances of survival dwindled from about 30 per cent down to 1 per cent.’
Lucy and Alex’s mother were due to be called in to say their ‘final goodbyes’ in the morning, but Alex was offered a lifeline when an ICU consultant looking after him suggested a new trial in the US being used on Strep A patients.
‘It was just an inordinate amount of steroids,’ said Alex. ‘In the end they would probably kill a normal human being.
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‘But because I was so ill…it kept the strep at bay and it sort of almost tried to stop it in its tracks.’
A few days later Alex thought he was in recovery when doctors told him they could not continue his care at Winchester ICU, telling him they would have to move him to Salisbury.
‘They wouldn’t say why that was. I went into a private room. We were all unawares as to what was going on,’ he said.
It was then that Alex’s life would change forever – as he was told by his plastic surgeon, Alex Crick, that multiple body parts were going to have to be removed.
‘She was definitely going to amputate my left arm above the elbow,’ he said.
‘She was definitely going to have to take my feet and ankles and she felt she might be able to save my knee joint.’
Alex was also told he would have to have his face rebuilt with a portion of his right shoulder.
‘Then she kind of walked out of the room and I was lying there thinking that I must be on drugs. She didn’t say that, surely,’ he said.
‘I remember my best friend coming in and I was freaking out. I said, we have to escape and we have got to get out. She’s going to take all my limbs.’
Following 135 hours of surgery Alex ended up losing three out of four limbs – keeping one arm – while his face was almost unrecognisable with huge pieces of skin stretched over his face.
Alex woke up one morning in the house alone and could hardly feel his limbs
Lucy and her stepfather called paramedics and Alex was rushed into Winchester ICU
Alex needed facial reconstruction after contracting Strep A
The father said the ‘lowest’ point of his life was when he was reunited with son, Sam, for the first time after surgery.
‘I was desperately looking forward to seeing him. His eyes met mine and he hid behind Lucy’s legs, couldn’t get his head round what he was looking at, who he was looking at,’ he said.
‘All I wanted to do was give me a cuddle. I was just desperate, and he wouldn’t do it. That’s probably the lowest I’ve ever been in my life.’
When Alex first arrived at Winchester ICU he was around 13 and a half stone, he said. But when he left Salisbury in June 2014 he was just five and a half stone.
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Alex’s recovery process was heavily focused on rehabilitation and going into London to learn how to walk, he said, with very little focus on arm strength.
‘It’s one thing to be able to walk to a kitchen worktop, but what if I get to the workshop and I can’t operate a coffee machine? I struggled with the rehabilitation and the mindset around it,’ he said.
‘I couldn’t really get stuck into it because I was worried about my face if I had fallen over or damaged my face. There was no other bit of skin available.’
In July 2014 Alex broke his last remaining limb – his arm – and was forced to have it amputated in order to keep learning to walk.
‘I immediately said, Let’s amputate. I’m not going to hold up my life anymore,’ he said.
‘From now on, we were just going to do everything in our power to enjoy it, get stuck into it, learn about it, and do as much as I possibly could.’
‘Just live for the moment.
‘Really. My son, he was the reason I probably had more fight in me than I ever knew. And Lucy, you know, I did it for those two.
‘At that point, I didn’t know what I was going to go on to do, but I just took every opportunity that came my way.’
Alex has since gone on to try skydiving, kayaking around the southern tip of Greenland, and public speaking at schools, businesses and colleges.
Speaking about his adventures in Africa, Alex said: ‘It’s amazing, it is full of adventure and it’s just really cool. But all you’re doing is personal development. I wasn’t actually doing something to make a difference for others like me.
‘At around 2016 or maybe early 2017, I had another shift in my outlook, and the more you travel, the more you realize how fortunate you are that you have the NHS, you have wheelchair services, you have rehabilitation, you have access to prosthetics.
Within the space of around 12 minutes after being seen in hospital Alex was diagnosed with having Strep A
‘They might not be great prosthetics, but there are things available that aren’t the case globally. So, I think it became a bit of a mission that how do we balance that out?’
Alex has since made it a goal to understand the needs of amputees like himself, he said – even assisting in making wheelchairs in Ethiopia.
‘The ultimate so far was the Ethiopian trip. We enhanced that facility over there that made wheelchairs,’ he said.
At the time Alex had been working on a project at Southampton Uni where they were developing a cycle for him.
‘I was going to cycle through the Simien mountains and then ultimately climb Ras Dashen. That’s the highest peak,’ he said.
‘That was the real change and point where we could actually leave something behind of benefit. We could link Southampton university with a university there.
‘We could forge relationships and ties with Ethiopia. So, we didn’t just parachute in, leave in some money and go. Now we were leaving something behind that we could support.’
He added: ‘Climbing the highest mountain was great, but it was never about that in my eyes. It was always about the impact that we could have in Ethiopia in terms of developing affordable wheelchairs, showing people, communities that feel that disability should be hidden away, that we were proud of what had gone on.’
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