Erica McCarthy has been a Prosthetist at Portsmouth Enablement Centre based within St Mary’s Treatment Centre for 22 years. Erica lives near Wickham with her husband Joe and their two children, Katie and James, and is sharing her story for the 75th anniversary of D-Day about her role as a Clinical Lead Prosthetist 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.
After training at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow and working in Dundee and Leeds, 53-year-old Erica joined the Enablement Centre and became part of a dedicated multi-disciplinary team including Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists and Consultants. Erica’s varied role includes a range of amputee support from sorting repairs and adjustments to making plaster casts for new prosthetic limbs.
Erica explains: “My role involves working to rehabilitate amputees, so I help to supply prosthetic limbs to the amputee population. My mother worked as a secretary in an amputee clinic in Glasgow which is how I found out about the role of the prosthetist. My husband is a prosthetist and his father was a prosthetist too.
“The important thing is comfort and function for our veterans with their prosthetic limbs.”
Erica has a wealth of experience working with both older and younger veterans within her role, and she still has a Second World War veteran as one of her patients. Erica says: “I look after one of our last veterans from the Second World War and he is now 97. I’ve been looking after him now for 22 years.”
Younger veterans, often from Afghanistan and Iraq, are known as enhanced veterans, whereas older veterans who have service attributable injuries from the Second World War are referred to as prior veterans.
Erica explains: “The new veterans seem a lot more accepting of their injuries, and it’s amazing how inspiring they are. They just get on with it, they don’t complain.
“We have a lot of amputees with a very high level of amputation, including bi-lateral [both sides] above knee amputees, but they still get on with their life. They ski, they cycle, and they’re involved in paralympic sport. They’re very inspiring.”
Erica has seen a number of patients throughout her time at the centre, and has been fortunate enough to watch them confidently progress as time goes on. She explains: “Some of my patients I’ve been seeing for my whole time here. Some I have seen as young adults who are now married with children…we all have our own allocated patients so we do get to know them.”
It is clear to see just how much of an impact the Portsmouth Enablement Centre has on the progress the veterans make.
Erica explains: “I see a brand new patient come in with a very negative view about what life as an amputee is like, but eventually I see them getting up on their feet and back to work. They come back nine months later and they have seen what they’re able to achieve by getting on with their life. Some walk in with no sticks.”
Many veterans at the centre take an active involvement with the D-Day commemorations after their own lives were impacted by war.
Erica says: “Our veterans get invited to all the big D-Day events in London, some of them are quite friendly with Prince Harry! They’ve been involved with Invictus games as well over the last couple of years.”
Erica’s support to veterans at Portsmouth Enablement Centre has been, and continues to be, invaluable.