When Paul Johnson lost his legs in an accident, he was so self-conscious and demotivated he didn’t leave the house for years.
“I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror, so I couldn’t imagine what it was like for other people to look at me,” says Paul, 29.
But he rebuilt his life thanks to Finding Your Feet, an initiative set up by Cor Hutton, 52, to support the mental and physical wellbeing of amputees and people with limb absence across Scotland.
In 2013, Cor lost her hands and feet after contracting pneumonia, then sepsis which was so severe that she lost circulation in hands and feet. Shortly afterwards she set up the charity.
“I was in hospital, feeling useless and worthless, so I needed something to drive me forward,” says Cor.
“Everything felt so bleak and there was no-one there to tell me what I’d be able to do next.
"Although the NHS was wonderful, they didn’t have the answers, so I was left with all these gaps and I set up Finding Your Feet to fill them. I had no idea it would become as big as it is.”
With the funding we received through The Health Lottery, Finding Your Feet now helps more than 800 people who’ve lost limbs or were born without them.
Cor has also become a motivational speaker and triathlete.
She had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2018 and had a double hand transplant in 2019.
Founding the charity gave her the purpose she needed to survive.
“I realised quite early that helping other people made me feel better and stopped me thinking about myself. Keeping busy was the answer to a lot of things and Paul was one of the first people I helped,” she recalls.
Paul was just 21 when he had both legs amputated above the knee after an accident on a railway line.
“Before that, most of my time was spent out with friends or sleeping. I had pretty bad mental health from 16 and I didn’t do very well at school and ended up working in a friend’s parents’ restaurant and going out drinking a lot. It was an ‘eat-drink-sleep-repeat’ thing, but I knew something was coming, it was like a ticking time bomb,” says Paul.
“That night I was coming home at 4am and decided to take a shortcut across the overhead beams of the railway line. I slipped and fell on to the track and I was electrocuted.
“For a couple of hours I was knocked out cold. When I woke up my legs were on fire and I was in terrible pain.
"My bag was in the middle of the track with my phone inside, so I had to roll over to get it. I pulled myself to safety and called an ambulance. Twenty minutes later they arrived and saved my life.”
He spent a month in intensive care before being transferred to a burns ward and although he began a slow physical recovery the psychological effects were brutal.
“I focused on the physical side, but didn’t deal with the emotional side at all. The first time I had to transfer myself from the bed to the wheelchair, it took me five minutes to cross a tiny gap and that’s when I realised: ‘This is what my life’s going to be like’. It hit me like a truck,” he says.
Feeling self-conscious and at his lowest, Paul went home and stayed there.
His worried family got in touch with Finding Your Feet and Cor invited him out for a coffee.
“Paul played hard to get,” says Cor. “He made it quite difficult and would cancel, but I knew it would be helpful for him to be out so I wouldn’t take no for an answer.
"When you go into a coffee shop with someone else who’s missing limbs, the focus is no longer on you and you build your confidence.”
Cor gave Paul the push he needed. “I isolated myself, but Cor knew that getting out of the house would be better for me,” he says.
“It was only at that point that I started to feel comfortable with my disability. Before that, I’d only been with my family or in a hospital setting.
"I hated the idea of going out and people looking at me. But through Finding Your Feet, I got my confidence back and now if someone stares at me I’ll give them a smile and a nod.
"Getting more involved with clubs and going out and seeing other amputees really helped me grow my confidence and become the person that I am today.”
Now Paul works in marketing for Finding Your Feet, where he and Cor are part of a team dedicated to helping others in the same position feel less isolated, make friends and build up their confidence.
Activities such as Pilates and swimming are offered, as well as free clubs and advice.
Finding Your Feet now has clubs throughout Scotland and funding raised through The Health Lottery has helped Cor to expand the offering.
“We really want to appeal to the amputees outside of the Glasgow area and the grant was vital for that. There’s a lot of word of mouth and we rely on physios and Occupational Therapists to tell people about it.
"Once you get here, everything we offer is free. We couldn’t do that without funding, so we want to say thanks so much to everyone who plays The Health Lottery.”
Finding Your Feet Factfile
Founded in 2014 by Cor Hutton
£38,322 grant from money raised through Health Lottery Scotland helped to expand the service
Supports over 800 amputees and people born without limbs
Promotes achievement and success in the community
Raises awareness of disability, promotes inclusivity and encourages accessibility
Finding Your Feet website