It's a Guinness world record attempt. From a wheelchair to a motorbike, Gerda du Toit is likely the first female bilateral amputee to undertake a 4 000km journey across South Africa on a motorbike.
But, 37-year-old Du Toit will tell you she’s already been through the toughest journey of her life.
A type-1 diabetic since the age of 9 and a cocaine addict in her 20s, Du Toit admits that she has “hurt her body”.
“I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep and I didn’t take my medication. All it took was a bump on my foot to begin a medical nightmare. I don’t even know how I got injured, but I had to endure my legs being hacked off, bit my bit. It rots and there is a stench – an instant social stigma. There is the trauma of surgery. And then there is the heartache of constantly having had to leave my two small children.”
Her sons are now 4 and 5 years old.
She counts 30 or more procedures. A toe, another toe, the foot and then one day in 2014, both her legs were gone from the knee down. She says her medical aid priced the prosthetics at around R400 000. She was fortunate to receive them via the Amputee Club and The Kirsty Watts Foundation.
Biker, Charl Beukes, chairman of the Amputee Club and business science student, Kirsty Watts, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of 13, had already been working together for a number of years to help child amputees.
Watts, now 23, says they’ve helped a modest, but significant number of kids.
“Children grow. For instance, the bone of the leg will grow right through the stump of an amputated leg. So when we provide a prosthetic for a child, care is ongoing. We have to replace the prosthetic every few months until the child is fully-grown.
“A prosthetic is also made to fit that specific child, so they are not recycled.
“We’ve managed to continue to help the children we have extended our support to, thanks to discounts from the manufacturers. If we make the R2 million target we’ve aimed to raise with Riding for a Limb, the company will give us an even better discount.
Both Watts and Du Toit say the true champion is Beukes, who has ridden alongside Du Toit until the journey’s end in Johannesburg today.
Watts says he is at the coalface, working with the poorest of poor amputees. "When producers were looking for amputees for the filming of Blood Diamond, he negotiated that they would pay for prosthetics for the 27 adults and 14 kids who acted as extras on the film.”
Beukes says, “A child can be on a public health care waiting list for a prosthetic for years."
That wait can lead to an untimely death, so their focus is not on those who can get to a hospital, but the poorest of the poor, who are left outside the system.
Watts says although they haven’t had the response to the ride that they were hoping for, they are not disheartened.
Keep your feet healthy
Anette Thompson of the Podiatry Association of South Africa says there are about 1.4 million diabetics in state health care in KwaZulu-Natal alone. There are 2 400 amputations a year and many wait for more than five years for a prosthetic, if they live that long.
She explained that diabetes led to nerve damage and poor blood circulation which often left the skin and feet vulnerable to sores and infection.
A non-healing ulcer that causes severe damage to tissues and bone may require surgical removal (amputation) of a toe, foot or part of a leg
Thompson says managing your diabetes and taking care of your feet is imperative.
“According to the World Health Organisation, amputations may be decreased by 85% when a podiatrist is part of the multi-disciplinary team which cares for a diabetic. The team of professionals should include an endocrinologist (diabetes doctor), your doctor, a diabetes nurse educator, a podiatrist, a dietitian, an ophthalmologist, a psychologist and a biokineticist.
Here is how to keep your feet healthy:
* The best strategy is prevention, so manage your diabetes. Visit your doctor regularly, take the prescribed medication duly, eat a healthy diet, do regular exercise and monitor your blood sugar.
* Take charge. If you’re diabetic, inspect your feet daily for blisters, cuts, cracks, sores, redness, tenderness or swelling. If you have trouble reaching your feet, use a hand mirror to see the bottoms of your feet. Place the mirror on the floor if it’s too difficult to hold, or ask someone to help you.
* Wash your feet daily in lukewarm water. Dry them gently, especially between the toes.
* Use a pumice stone to gently rub the skin where calluses form. Sprinkle safe talcum powder or cornstarch between your toes to keep the skin dry.
* Use a moisturising cream or lotion on the tops and bottoms of your feet to keep the skin soft.
* Don’t remove calluses or other foot lesions yourself. Don’t use a nail file, nail clipper or scissors on calluses, corns, bunions or warts. Don’t use chemical wart removers. See your doctor or foot specialist for removal of lesions.
* Trim your toenails carefully. Preferably straight across. Ask for assistance from a caregiver if you are unable to trim your nails yourself.
* Don’t go barefoot so as to prevent injury to your feet.
* Wear clean, dry cotton socks – not nylon. Avoid socks with tight elastic bands that reduce circulation, as well as thick bulky socks that fit poorly and irritate your skin.
* Invest in good shoes. They should fit comfortably, provide support and cushion the heel, arch and ball of the foot. Avoid tight-fitting shoes and high heels or narrow shoes that crowd your toes.
* If one foot is bigger than the other, buy shoes in the larger size. Your doctor or podiatrist may recommend specially designed shoes (orthopaedic shoes) that fit the exact shape of your feet, cushion your feet and evenly distribute weight on your feet.
* Don’t smoke. It impairs circulation and reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood. These circulatory problems can result in more-severe wounds and poor healing.
* Schedule regular foot check-ups. Your doctor or podiatrist will inspect your feet for early signs of nerve damage, poor circulation or other foot problems.
* Take foot injuries seriously. Contact your doctor or podiatrist if you have a foot sore that doesn’t quickly begin to heal.
* For shoe inserts/orthotics your podiatrist will conduct a biomechanical examination to assess whether the way you walk predisposes you to pressure areas under the foot which can lead to ulceration. They will then take an impression of your feet to make custom innersoles or orthotics, depending on what is needed. You wear these inside your shoes to offload pressure areas.
For more information, visit www.podiatrist.co.za or call 0861 100 249.