Barry Porter has tackled plenty of challenges in life.
But the toughest one yet for the former managing director of the Porters hardware dynasty has been the health battle which began with two blisters on his foot and resulted in the amputation of his left leg below the knee.
It was a battle further complicated by a series of life-threatening setbacks – COVID-19, pneumonia, and a serious lung infection.
It’s a battle that Barry has won.
Now he wants to thank the people who helped him get there.
He started with the team he spent most of his time with – the Mackay Hospital and Health Service’s CHATS (Community Health and Therapy Services) rehabilitation service.
His troubles began on Australia Day, two years ago.
“I was cleaning my driveway, with an ill-fitting pair of sneakers on, and I got two blisters on my left foot,” Barry said.
“They progressively got worse and worse; they wouldn’t heal because I’m a diabetic.”
What started as little blisters grew into huge sores and over the next six months, doctors battled to clear the infection.
He was then sent to a Brisbane-based orthopaedics specialist for a brutally final verdict.
“He said ‘sorry I’ve got bad news for you – if you don’t have your leg taken off within a week you will be dead within a month because the infection is now spreading into your spleen and into your liver, and next it will be into your kidney’,” he said.
Barry returned home to talk to family, and then to his doctor and two days later, he underwent an amputation at the Mater Hospital. During his time there, a nurse recommended the CHATS rehabilitation program to him.
“My whole journey was made so much easier by me coming here, out to CHATS,” Barry said.
“I didn’t know what to expect or what I was going to do and how it was going to affect my life and everything, but I came out here and everybody was positive about it.”
Barry began his rehabilitation program with gusto, setting goals and conquering them.
“I had all these brilliant ideas that I was going to drive my car within six weeks, which I did,” he said.
“Then I set an aim of three months before I could walk, and that didn’t work out.
“I was just starting to get on top of it, and I got bloody COVID early last year and it nearly killed me.”
Barry has a condition called CLL, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia, which wiped out his immunity.
“I was told ‘you’ve got no immunity, that’s the real problem; your body can’t fight any infection you get’,” Barry said.
“I couldn’t fight the COVID and then it got worse, and I got pneumonia and then I got a lung infection.
“I was in and out, in and out, of the hospital and the last time … I was really, really, sick and they put me in isolation.”
It was at this point doctors spoke to Barry and his family about preparing for the worst.
“I didn’t understand it, though they told me, because I was out of it,” Barry said.
“They talked to my daughter Kylie and said ‘we don’t think your father’s going to make it. We’ll get you to sign all the documents re resuscitation etc.
“But I just battled through it; I gradually got over it.”
For the next 12 months, Barry continued to work on his recovery, coming to CHATS two or three times a week, gradually developing physical strength, and overcoming mental challenges.
“I had to learn how to walk,” he said.
“Gradually, gradually, gradually I improved.’
CHATS physiotherapist Josh Campbell outlined the rehab program
“We work a lot on strength, on flexibility of the hip and the knee and on your cardiovascular fitness, which for Barry after having COVID really needed work, because there’s a lot of cardiovascular demand to walk on a prosthetic leg,” Mr Campbell said.
Barry clearly remembers some of highlights.
“After about six months Josh said to me, ‘we’re about ready to get you onto a leg’,” he said.
“You use an aid, a metal cage with a balloon on the inside essentially, so it gives someone the chance to stand up on a leg.
“It was the first time I stood up by myself for probably 18 months, and you know I’d stand in between those rails on this thing there and put me arms down and go ahhhhhhhh!
“It had been such a long time since I could stand like this – by myself.”
Along with the physical battles came mental challenges as well.
“The biggest problem I had was mentally because I thought that I could do better,” Barry said.
“I was right in the middle of it and COVID knocked me. I had a few unexpected setbacks.
“But you always get those thoughts – why me – why is this happening to me and that was probably one of the hardest things.”
A few weeks ago, Barry got the news that his time at CHATS was at an end.
A permanent prosthetic limb is under construction, and his weekly visits are at an end.
The straight shooter has a final word on his experience with CHATS and Mackay HHS.
“I’d say ‘I’m going out to the Base; I’m doing my rehab,” Barry said.
“And people say ‘ah, how do you get on out at the Base’ and I’d say ‘no problem at all’.
“I’ve seen a hundred people out there at the Base; I’ve never seen a bad one.”