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Friday 17 July 2020

Army Veteran Cornelia Oosthuizen is making great strides in her recovery after learning to walk again

Posted by Help For Heroes

Cornelia Oosthuizen was competing in the Army's annual tennis competition in 2014 when she hurt her right foot. Putting it down to a sprain, she assumed it would get better in a matter of weeks.

However the pain worsened, and after enduring six months of near- constant agony and undergoing various scans and X-rays, Cornelia was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a condition thought to be caused by nerves mistakenly telling the brain a part of the body hurts.

Eventually, the pain meant Cornelia had to leave the Army. For the next five years, she took up to 12 pills a day to manage her condition and in November 2018 made a life-changing decision – to have the whole of her lower leg amputated.

"It was becoming intolerable to live with and I just thought, ‘I can't live like this’.

"I spoke to medical professionals and other people with the condition who had decided on amputation, and I decided to go ahead."

Following the operation to remove her lower leg, Cornelia underwent intense rehabilitation and physiotherapy to learn to walk again.

“I was quite wobbly and unsure on my feet, especially on the amputated leg at the beginning. It takes time to re-educate your body. Things like your gait and posture feel out of place. You have to trust that you can put increasing firmness and pressure through the amputated leg, then force yourself to do it in small increments.

“I found it exciting to re-learn a skill I've taken for granted for most of my life. Initially I took what felt like baby steps, and to walk from one side of the room to the other was an accomplishment. It takes more physical effort to walk with an artificial limb, which is something that still catches me out even now after nearly 18 months as a single leg amputee.”

Spending time at one of our recovery centres, Cornelia discovered a love of wheelchair tennis and went on to compete at the 2017 Invictus Games where she won a gold and bronze medal.

Now Cornelia, who also runs her own business, has set her sights on representing her country at the Tokyo Paralympics and dreams of one day playing at Wimbledon. To keep training during lockdown she is focusing on strength and conditioning exercises and using resistance bands.

“I set myself small challenges - like doing five pullups every time I go to the kitchen.

“Doing physical exercise definitely helps you feel better. You don’t need a fancy gym - you can do a lot with the environment you’ve got at home.”