Vicky Balch – I’m learning to run again
Vicky Balch is going from strength to strength after her leg was amputated following the horror smash on the Smiler ride at Alton Towers. She tells Health on Top how she got fit and learned to love her body.
Vicky Balch was a 20-year-old university student when she visited the theme park on that fateful day last June, when two carriages on the rollercoaster crashed together with devastating consequences. Vicky’s leg had to be amputated, changing her life forever. Now, a year on, she reveals how she’s regained her confidence and boosted her fitness levels.
“Before the accident, I was very body confident,” says Vicky. “I could eat what I wanted and never put on any weight. I used to dance throughout high school and did cheerleading. I always did as much as I could to stay fit. “When the accident happened, I’d nearly finished my second year studying international spa management at university in Buxton, Derbyshire. I used to walk everywhere and go to the gym all the time. The plan was to do a third year and graduate as a bachelor of science, but I can’t really imagine being an amputee in Buxton.
With all the hills, I’d really struggle.”
“Since the accident, I don’t go out as much as I used to. When I was at uni I went out a couple oftimes a week. I used to work in a bar, so I’d go out after work and I knew everyone. Now I’m living back at home I’ve lost contact with a lot of my friends. I do go out occasionally, but it takes more organising. I can’t do anything on a whim. “I go to physio once every couple of weeks, but I’ve got a personal trainer and I go to the gym with him twice a week, and then I try to go on my own as well – I try to go as much as I can. “I get all my physio from Pace Rehabilitation, who are experts in limb loss and serious limb injury. They fitted me with the prosthetic leg, so they knew exactly what exercises I needed to do. At the moment, I’m learning to run. “I like to keep the prosthesis on as much as possible. If I’m not wearing it then I have to use crutches or my wheelchair if I’m going out. But you’ve got to be sensible – sometimes I get little sores and cuts, which can be painful. I’ve always looked after my skin, so if it is sore I’ll take it off and clean it, then moisturise the skin.”
Battle with weight gain
“I’ve always been healthy and eaten a balanced diet, but I did put on a lot of weight after the accident. Because of the medication I was taking to control the nerve pain following the amputation, I just couldn’t stop eating. Nothing would fill me up. It was horrible. I’ve started reducing my tablets now, which has helped a lot. “I suffer from phantom sensations and phantom pain. I do get it occasionally and it can be painful, but it doesn’t last for very long. “It goes it stages. When I’m reducing the tablets, I lose my appetite. I get hot and cold flushes and I feel quite sickly, so then I have to try and make sure I’m getting everything I need, because I don’t feel like eating anything. “Physically and mentally, I had to be strong. I had so many appointments, I had to mentally prepare myself to get up and going, when some days I just really didn’t want to. I definitely found the strength from somewhere. “After the accident, I was so upset because I never though I’d look like I used to again, but I’m finally getting there. I recently did a sexy photoshoot, which I loved. It’s given me my confidence back. After everything I’ve been through, I didn’t think I looked sexy. So when I saw the photos, it made me see myself in a different way. I feel like I’m finally getting my old self back. “I’ve met a lot of other amputees who have shown me that you can get through it and live a completely normal life. Kate Philp is a massive role model for me. She was in the army and lost the lower part of her left leg in Afghanistan. “I was introduced to her by the anaesthetist who was one of the rescuers who got me off the ride. She’s run marathons and even did an expedition to the South Pole with Prince Harry, so she really inspired me. Even people like the acid attack victim Katie Piper, who aren’t amputees but have been through something life-changing, have shown me that you can get through it and live a completely normal life.
Beating the bullies
“I’ve had abuse from trolls ever since day one. I was in hospital just after the accident and I was being hassled by the media, so I released a statement saying what had happened. One part of it was that I thought I was going to die. I wanted to die, I was in that much pain. And I got a message saying: ‘Well, why don’t you die, then? You should.’ “I was in hospital; it had just happened. It really upset me and I thought: ‘Well, should I die?’ I was in a lot of pain. I didn’t know. I still had my leg, then. After five operations, infection set in and they had to remove it. To be honest, it was a relief. “Now, I’ve completely changed how I look at things. People say they hate seeing me on TV. They say I should just get over it, that I’m milking it – but all I’m trying to do is show that you can get through it. “I want to raise awareness. I could get
thousands of horrible messages, but if I can just help that one person, then it’s worth it. “I’ve had a lot of messages from people saying
that I’ve inspired them. I’ve had even terminal cancer patients telling me that when they feel down, or they don’t want to carry on, they look at my story and what I’ve been through, and it gives them the strength to keep going.
“It really pulls on the heart strings. Knowing that I’ve made a difference to someone’s life, it makes it all worth it.”
Vicky Balch, 21, from Preston in Lancashire