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Gary Mabbutt: “I almost had a leg amputated because of diabetes”

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Gary Mabbuttis fondly remembered by football fans for his 16-year spell playing for Tottenham Hotspurs, where he went on to become Club Captain and played for England.But off the pitch Gary has had to face a very different challenge after a diabetes-related complication brought him close to having one of his legs amputated.Gary, who decided to talk about his experience to help raise awareness of Diabetes UK’s foot campaign, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 17. A diagnosis of Type 1 is always a life-changing experience, but for Gary it had the added difficulty that he was told by his specialist that it meant the end of his dream to be a professional footballer.

“Hearing this news and the prospect of losing a career I had worked so hard for was absolutely devastating.”But desperate for a different answer, Gary approached other specialists until finally the fourth one he asked suggested he could continue playing and see how it went. Thirteen years later he had clocked up more than 750 appearances for Tottenham and won 16 caps for England.Gary'scareer in professional football meant he always had a healthy lifestyle and taken particular care of his legs and feet. As someone with Type 1, he would always check his feet every day and talk to a healthcare professional about any changes.But four years ago Gary began to experience tingling and numbness in his feet and then started to get cramps when he was out on his daily jog with his dog. He talked to his specialist about it but there did not seem any cause for great concern.Then, in the early hours of a morning in March 2013, Gary’s life changed forever. He woke in agony because of an extreme pain in his left leg.“The only way I can describe it is being a bit like cramp but five times worse,” Gary said. “Because the pain was so bad, I knew straight away that something was very wrong and I started to seriously worry about my leg. But I did not want to wake my consultant in the middle of the night and so waited until 6am to give him a call. It was a real mistake, as I realise now that a few hours can make a huge difference and I would advise anyone else in the same position to pick up the phone straight away.“When I finally spoke to my consultant, he advised me to get to King’s College Hospital immediately. Looking back, I should have got an ambulance, but at the time I decided to use public transport and so had to endure a train journey and then get on the Tube to get to King’s. It was an awful journey, with the leg in such a lot of pain and thoughts racing through my mind about what was going to happen to my leg.”When he finally arrived at the hospital, he was examined and told he had a blocked artery that meant no blood was travelling to his leg (this is also known as a ‘foot attack’). He was told they would need to operate immediately if they were to have any chance of saving the leg.

"There was a serious chance that I would lose my leg"

“The news that there was a serious chance that I would lose the leg made me feel terrified and I could feel the hairs stand up on the back of my neck,” said Gary. “The surgeon told me that he literally didn’t know whether I would still have my leg when I woke up from the anaesthetic. I dreaded the thought of waking up and looking down and seeing that I only had one leg. The last thing I remember saying to the surgeon before I went under was: ‘Please have a good day at the office today.”The surgeons cut from his groin down to the bottom of his leg to try to find a vein long enough to carry blood to his foot. Thankfully, they were successful and managed to save his leg.“When I woke up and found out the operation had worked, I felt so elated and relieved. And above all, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to the surgical team that had done this wonderful thing for me. I still do.”After a further two weeks in hospital and two weeks of bed rest, Gary got back on his feet. But while he feels extremely fortunate that his leg was saved, he is much less mobile than he was before. From doing regular exercise, he is now limited to walking slowly and swimming.

"These days I can't even kick a ball"

“Every morning when I come down, my dog greets me excitedly and wants to go for a run. But I can’t do it. These days I cannot even kick a football or even stand at the side of the pitch because I can’t let my feet get cold or wet.”This means he has had to step back from his day-to-day involvement with football and has give up his coaching work. But he still works within the game, working as an Ambassador for Tottenham and working with the FA.

"I would urge everyone with the condition to regularly check their feet"

While Gary has supported Diabetes UK for many years, he now wants to focus on raising awareness of foot issues for people with diabetes.“I hope the story of what happened to me can help raise awareness among people with diabetes about the importance of looking after your feet. It really is so important. I would urge anyone with the condition to make sure they’re regularly checking their feet and getting an annual foot check from a healthcare professional.”Getting these messages out to people with diabetes is an important part of Diabetes UK’s Putting Feet First campaign, which aims to reduce the diabetes-related amputation rate by half. At the moment, up to 80 per cent of diabetes-related amputations are thought to be preventable. The charity is also campaigning for the NHS to consistently give people excellent foot care, whereas at the moment too many people with foot problems do not get the care they need quickly enough.

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