Friday, 21 August 2015

Type one star

It’s no joke losing your leg to diabetes, but Colin Leggo (yes, his real name) is thriving as a one-legged stand-up.

Written by Richard Barber
Leggo-Aug21-02-176This is a story of hope over experience. In 2004, comedian Colin Leggo was playing a magical elf in a children’s theatrical show. ‘My plastic shoes didn’t fit very well,’ he recalls, ‘with the result that I developed a blister on the little toe of my right foot. So I put a plaster on it. By the end of the week, though, I’d started developing flu-like symptoms. Then I woke up one morning and, overnight, my foot had swollen and turned a bright shade of purple.’

At his local A&E, a sample of his blood was taken. ‘Shortly afterwards, a specialist entered my cubicle. “How long have you been diabetic?” he asked. I was astounded. It was explained that my sugar levels were off the scale.’ He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

It was only later, as he adjusted to this news, that he realised there had been clear signs over the preceding two years that something was wrong. At his largest, Colin, who is 5ft 9in, weighed over 14 stone. However, ‘By the point I was diagnosed, I weighed just over eight stone.

‘And I do remember, just before I was diagnosed, being at a cashpoint in late November. Incredible as it now seems, I didn’t have the strength to pull my bank card out of the machine. I had to get somebody else to do it for me. Even then, though, I ignored it and continued with my busy life.’

Colin was later told that the blister had become infected because his body was in revolt. ‘It wasn’t producing insulin, so a simple wound would not heal in the normal way, which was why the infection had set in.’

Type 1 diabetes affects more than 300,000 people in the UK. With this condition, the body attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce the hormone insulin and destroys them, so little or no insulin is produced. Untreated, it can lead to a coma, which could prove fatal. While the cause of type 1 diabetes is not clear, it usually emerges in childhood, although a small number of adults – such as Colin – also develop the condition.

Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90 per cent of all cases, normally occurs in adulthood and is largely attributed to poor diet and lifestyle choices; some 80 per cent of sufferers are overweight or obese.

The main warning signs for both types of diabetes include: increased thirst, urinating more often (particularly at night), constant tiredness, unexplained weight loss and wounds and cuts that take a long time to heal. If you suffer from any of these symptoms, you should see your GP .

Once the infection was under control, Colin, 37 this month, had the irreparably damaged flesh on the side of his foot, including his little toe, cut away, then underwent microsurgery in which flesh from his left thigh was grafted onto the foot.

A month after he’d been admitted, Colin was allowed to go home – or rather, to his parents’ house in Falmouth. In time, it became clear that too much flesh had been grafted onto his foot, which meant there was no shoe wide enough to fit him. What’s more, the removal of a tendon had resulted in the foot turning in on itself. ‘So I had to wear a removable plaster cast on my foot to try to reverse the process.’

Throughout it all, he was unable to put any pressure on his foot, and had to use crutches to get about at home and a wheelchair if he was driven anywhere. ‘But I had the diabetes under control by then, injecting myself with what looks like a fountain pen three times a day before meals and once before I went to bed. Good sugar control greatly assisted the healing process.’

After three months he returned to London – but then the underneath of his foot began to blister. ‘I was effectively walking on the bony side of it, so I was given another cast and various pads to try and alleviate the weight bearing down on that part of the foot while the tissue healed.’

But every time the cast was replaced, his foot kept turning inwards. ‘After three years, during which I opened two comedy clubs in Tooting, south London, and made a series of video blogs, it was clear I was fighting a losing battle.’

Colin now faced a stark choice: he could continue with a series of procedures and plaster casts with no guarantee of lasting success, or have his right leg amputated below the knee.

‘I was married by now, and my wife Sue and I had a long series of chats. I couldn’t wear shoes or run or swim or go on holiday without complicated planning to ensure I could get about without too much difficulty. I’d had enough. So, with Sue’s 100 per cent support, I agreed to the operation.’

After several last-minute cancellations due to a lack of beds, the amputation took place in May last year. ‘One of my main worries was what my right leg would now look like. After three days, the dressing had to be changed, and that’s when I steeled myself to meet my stump. It was quite gruesome: red and swollen and covered in stitches. But I was fine with it, because I knew it would calm down.

‘I’m naturally quite an easy-going sort of chap, and I’d accepted psychologically that I was going to lose part of my right leg. But I’ve sometimes asked myself whether amputation would have been necessary if I’d been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes earlier. But you can’t live your life on what might have been.’

A month in hospital was followed by a spell in rehab for daily sessions of physiotherapy, before he returned home last July. ‘A couple of weeks later, the titanium prosthetic leg was fitted and I began the slow process of adjusting to it.’

He wears a rubber sleeve over the stump, which is then inserted into a sock that fits into a fibreglass socket. After two weeks, Colin was able to use just the one crutch. He used a stick for a further six months, but since the beginning of this year he’s walked totally unaided.

‘I must say, I was worried how Sue would react to the stump, but she says she’s genuinely unconcerned. I think she’s just pleased – like me – that I’m no longer battling a foot that was basically dying.

‘And I’m so much happier in myself, because I haven’t got this constant threat of infection and pain. I’ve adjusted to living with diabetes and having to inject myself daily and I’m well used now to eating sensibly. I was never a big drinker, but now I hardly touch alcohol at all.’

So what next for this resilient, resourceful man? Throughout the last decade, Colin has made notes about some of the blackly humorous events involving his foot and its eventual amputation. These formed the basis of the comedy routine he’s performing at the Edinburgh Festival until the end of this month. ‘You’re looking,’ says the aptly named Mr Leggo, ‘at the world’s first Cornish one-legged stand-up.’

For more on Colin’s Edinburgh show: www.colinleggo.com



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