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Smoking made me lose a limb; A rare disease which causes constant pain left Grant Carlsson an amputee, discovers Greg Tindle.

GRANT Carlsson freely admits he hated cigarettes and only carried on smoking through habit and then mostly on social occasions.

But that habit was to turn his world upside down when Grant ended up with a rare and painful disease which is linked to tobacco and for which there is no cure.

The result was the keen sportsman and 37-year-old father had little alternative but to face the amputation of his left leg - a momentous decision that at last brought him relief from the round-the-clock agony he'd endured for nearly seven months. Grant was a victim of Buerger's Disease, a condition which causes inflammation and thrombosis in blood vessels. He'd never heard of it and was shocked to discover it was associated with his smoking habit.

"I had been smoking since I was about 16 but was never a heavy smoker - perhaps 10 cigarettes on a bad day," said Grant who had his leg amputated in March this year.

Despite being "scared to death" about losing his leg Grant, a mechanical engineer, is now fighting back to fitness and is determined to repay the NHS staff for the help they have given him by embarking on a sponsored 300-mile kayaking venture around the coast of Wales paddling from Caernarfon to Cardiff. He plans to start the venture this November.

"I'm hoping to raise pounds 5,000 for the Artificial Limb and Appliance Centre in Swansea, for equipment they need but cannot afford. This is my way of thanking these wonderful people for all the support they have given me since I lost my leg."

Grant also hopes his marathon paddle will help raise awareness of amputees and the personal journey they make when losing a limb.

Grant, who lives in Porthcawl with wife Kersty and eight-year-old son Keegan, believes the first indication he had some form of problem was four years ago when he started to experience a hot burning sensation and pins and needles in his toes.

"Over time I went to doctors, physios, had my blood pressure tested but no-one could get to the bottom of it - all the tests seemed to come back negative."

But in August last year the pain in his foot intensified to the point where Grant described it as crippling, leaving him unable to walk any distance. He was given only a dose of painkilling tablets to ease the situation. It was three months later when the real seriousness of his condition hit home with a vengeance.

"I was literally screaming with pain in the middle of the night and Kersty rushed me into A&E at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend. They did some tests for a blood clot, gave me some morphine and then sent me home."

By the next day Grant was back seeing his GP still in pain. Over the next few weeks he was re-admitted to A&E four times, with little progress in discovering the pain's cause.

"Each time I was admitted to hospital I was crying out in pain but nothing seemed to be happening about what was causing it. Eventually I saw a surgeon and he took one look at my leg and knew immediately what it was. My foot felt like a block of ice, it was discoloured and looked like it belonged to a dead man. There was just no blood flow going through my leg."

A surgical attempt to open the artery proved unsuccessful and Grant faced the only alternative which was to remove the leg from below the knee. "The surgeon asked me what I wanted to do. He knew the answer but he wanted to hear it from me. I agreed there was no choice but to have the amputation. I couldn't go on living like that, unable to walk, unable to sleep and in constant pain." When the moment came, Grant said he was scared to death.

"It's not like taking a tablet, this was the moment when my life was to change for ever and I was very nervous. I was always sports mad, played rugby, hockey and had taken part in marathons and long-distance paddling but all that now looked in the past."

But after the operation Grant said he was determined to face the loss in a positive way and started physio straight after the fitting of his new leg with the help of staff from the limb centre in Swansea.

It was visits to the centre that inspired Grant to launch his fundraising venture and, with the support in leaving painkilling the hit of venture and the Up and Under Watersports in Cardiff Marine Village, he is planning his assault on the Welsh coastline with daily stints of 20 miles, depending on the weather.

pain "At the moment I'm still working out if I can paddle with my leg on or off.

They gave "If I can't I've got to figure out some way of strapping it to the kayak so I can put it back on at the end of each day's journey."

back the to To support Grant, or for more information on his journey, call him on 01656 772214 or mobile 07815 908696 WHAT IS BUERGER'S DISEASE? It is a rare condition where blood vessels in the legs, and sometimes the arms, become inflamed, causing a reduction in blood flow. Clots may also form in these blood vessels, preventing an adequate flow of blood. The precise cause of Buerger's is unknown but it is believed that in susceptible individuals smoking triggers an immune response from the body that causes the inflammation. The symptoms occur as a result of inadequate blood supply to the tissues.

The symptoms include tenderness or pain in the feet or hands during exercise or when at rest and tingling or numbness in the limbs.

Eventually tissue may be damaged and destroyed. This can lead to ulcers in the skin and gangrene.

Buerger's Disease is most common among people aged between 20 and 40, and affects men three times as often as women.

The disease can run in families and is more common among people from Asia, India and the Middle East. People who develop Buerger's disease tend to be heavy smokers. There is no cure and the only effective treatment bringing benefits is to stop smoking.

If someone affected continues to smoke, they are likely to have toes, limbs or fingers amputated.


Grant Carlsson plans to paddle a canoe around the coast of Wales to raise money for the Artificial Limb and Appliance Centre, Swansea, which helped him. Up and Under Watersports in Penarth Road is helping with his kayak. PICTURES: Richard Swingler [umlaut]
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 7, 2009
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