Alasdair Gilbertson has been working as a Prosthetist at Portsmouth Enablement Centre based within St Mary’s Treatment Centre for 14 years. Alasdair is sharing his story for the 75th anniversary of D-Day about his role working alongside veterans.
The Portsmouth Enablement Centre provides a regional prosthetic service to people living in Portsmouth, Southampton, Hampshire and some areas of West Sussex, and is one of nine enhanced Veterans Care Centres in the UK providing specialist prosthetic and rehabilitation services for veterans whose amputation is attributed to their military service.
Many veterans that Alasdair sees have already received limbs from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) centre, Headley Court. They are then transferred out to one of the nine veteran enablement centres located around the UK, and Portsmouth is home to one of these.
Alasdair’s job involves meeting with veterans to ensure their prosthetic limbs are still in good working order, and to resolve any issues that may arise.
Alasdair explains: “a veteran might have a leg for skiing or a specific leg for cycling or diving. A lot of them will have six or seven different legs, or pairs of legs, depending on the sport or activity they’re doing.”
All of the prosthetics that Portsmouth Enablement Centre provides are specifically measured, designed and constructed in-house by a team of dedicated technicians, built in house.
Alasdair says: “our workshop team at the Enablement Centre make prosthetics on-site. Our technicians will build prosthetics to a prescription that we will give them. I cast and measure our veterans for a new socket for example, and will then ask for the limb to be built to match their specific requirements.”
Alasdair enjoys providing this personalised service to veterans, and even though they only visit sporadically, a friendship has formed over time. Alasdair says: “Veterans tend to visit a few times a year. We do get to know them quiet well and may chat about hobbies, holidays etc. We have that sort of relationship with them.”
Alasdair originally discovered his interest in prosthetics when working abroad for a charity in eastern Sudan. He explains: “The charity was looking after a refugee camp for refugees who came across the border after a civil war. Some who came over had lost legs from landmines or something similar.
“I was a motor mechanic at the time looking after transport for the charity, but I thought that looks interesting, so I went home and had a career change to become a prosthetist at 29.”
As time moves on, so does technology, which keeps this industry busy and prioritises veterans’ comfort and quality of life. It also means there is never a dull moment for Alasdair in this essential role. Alasdair says: “There’s pressure to keep up with technology, like making sure the sockets fit better than they used to. There’s a lot more things going on these days, and it’s a small industry.
“There are a lot of things going on, you might be attaching a prosthesis straight to a patient’s bone or setting up a new knee for someone else. As they’re active and sporty and get on with things, they’re always achieving a lot and pushing us for the next thing because they want to go up to the next level!”
After being with Portsmouth Enablement Centre since 2005, Alasdair still finds his work rewarding. He explains: “The most rewarding part of my job is getting something right so that the veteran is achieving what they want to achieve, so a comfortable socket for example which helps them to do the sport or activity that they want to do.
With the 75th Anniversary of D-Day taking place this year, Alasdair shares his thoughts on the courageous servicemen who lost their lives. Alasdair says: “I think D-Day must have been a horrendous thing to go through. When you think about people who volunteered, you can’t imagine what it must have been like to go on the D-Day beaches. It was a really brave thing that they did.”
The future is now looking bright for many of the veterans that Alasdair sees, and nothing will hold them back. Alasdair says: “Most of the veterans I see are positive. They say, I’m going to get my leg and get back to work before you! There’s a bit of banter going on.
“I see veterans go from absolutely nothing to being on a running blade, its a few years’ process but as we see them throughout the years, we see the change.”