Tuesday, 01 December 2015

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To hell and back - now Will's helping soldiers deal with war wounds

Will Scott is an inspiration who views every one of life’s setbacks – and he’s had more than a fair share – as a positive challenge.

Will Scott photo
Will Scott

He’s had cancer twice, undergone 25 operations in hospital including the amputation of his right leg, and he turns problems that would daunt and destroy most people into an advantage.

As a member of the Amputees in Action group, Will, ticket sales manager at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake, acts as a film extra.

And he also takes part in exercises with Army medics., playing the role of a battlefield casualty so effectively that he often shocks those who are training to treat wounded soldiers in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Whitehaven born Will grew up at Dovenby and went to Keswick School. He spent a brief time working as a gamekeeper on a Cockermouth estate before becoming an apprentice electrician and instrument mechanic at Sellafield.

It was during his five years working at Sellafield that Will discovered he had bone cancer.

It began innocently enough with a sore knee. As his job entailed climbing ladders and crawling into odd places Will thought it was nothing more serious than a nuisance sprain.

So initially did doctors who put him on crutches. The ache didn’t go away though and, when Will finally went for an X-ray, it showed a tumour the size of a cork at the top of his knee.

After chemotherapy he underwent the first of his many operations in hospital in Newcastle. A metal implant into his leg didn’t work. He caught a superbug infection and, because the implant was metal, antibiotics didn’t have any effect.

There followed five years of operations as surgeons tried to sort out the problem, but when the pain became too much to bear, Will sat down with his wife Sarah and decided that radical action was required and he requested doctors to get rid of the leg.

“The best decision I ever made,” said Will. “I had been in hospital in Newcastle for most of the previous five years. It had taken that part of my life off me. With my straight leg I couldn’t drive and spent part of the time in a wheelchair so it was dictating my life.”

Three years ago he had the amputation, leaving him with about four inches of thigh which was just enough to enable him to use a prosthetic limb.

“I am quite disabled, but I can do things I couldn’t do with the leg,” he said. I’ve adapted in a lot of ways. I can drive an automatic, but I am looking forward to getting a car with hand controls in July.”

Amputees in Action was formed by a group of men who knew film director Ridley Scott when he asked them to appear in Gladiator. As a result they decided to form an agency and since then members have figured in several well known films including Saving Private Ryan, Troy and Band of Brothers.

Will got in touch after spotting an advert in a magazine while at the limb fitting centre in Carlisle. It has opened up a whole new field of activities which have turned his disability into a paying positive and led to some exciting adventures like barrel rolling in an Army helicopter over Stonehenge.

Troops and medics heading for action areas have to be trained realistically. Will says that some reckon the gory training they undergo is actually worse than the real thing.

He goes on exercise about once a month. “We are made up by a professional artist with all sorts of bloody injuries,” he said. “They even give us blood bags to squirt out of the stump! It’s tradition to see which of us can squirt the highest ranking officer.”

Thunderflashes and smoke create chaotic scenes during which Will and his fellow casualties are sneaked on to the battlefield. “We really act the part, screaming and hollering,” he said. “We do the lot—shallow breathing, pretending to be unconscious. There are buckets of blood everywhere. We are stretchered off into helicopters and go through the whole A&E gamut—and you get paid for it which isn’t bad.”

Troops heading for war will often come across arms and legs being blown off. Will admits: “Their reaction to us is shock and horror. Some are young squaddies aged 18. People throw up, it’s that realistic. There are even cases of them panicking and ringing 999.”

Will said: “I feel proud to be honest. The feedback we get shows that we really have helped them. I’ve done three events for the SAS who are an amazing bunch of blokes.”

Last year Will was a featured extra in Lilies, a 1920s drama on television. He was filmed coming down a corridor on crutches. “They must have done 120 takes for a one minute scene,” he said.

Earlier this year he was in Edinburgh, again as a featured extra, filming Book of Blood, a horror film with Clive Barker. “I was going to be one of the dead in a haunted house, but they decided I would play a hobo with one leg instead. Actor Jonas Armstrong walks up the road and I stop and glare at him.”

Will recently figured in Street Doctors on the BBC when the programme visited the Lake District. He met Dr George Ray to discuss the phantom pains in his missing leg. “George was amazed at what I had been through,” he said.

Last year Will developed a secondary tumour in his lung. “The scariest thing yet,” he admitted. “It was a secondary tumour from my leg w hich had not shown for seven years.

“I was prepared for the worst and took a few weeks off work because it was so stressful.

“They took one of the lobes off my lung and at the moment it’s fine. I’m in remission and am living life to the full. It’s amazing how it changes your attitude to everything. It sounds corny, but it takes your blinkers off and you appreciate everything.”

Will has learnt to ride a motor bike since losing his leg. He lives on a farm near Cockermouth and scrambles, fishes, shoots, enjoys grass track racing, has a go kart to get round the farm and has taken up archery.

“In the officers’ mess at Catterick one evening a chap asked if all amputees were like this. I said yes, you have got to be like this. But we are really a small percentage because many others shoot themselves away.

“Learning to walk with a prosthetic limb was hard and painful. But you have to crack on and do it. It was stressful, but I had a lot of help and Sarah, my wife, is my rock. I got cancer very early in our relationship and I would not be able to do what I do without her.”

The couple have two boys, two and a half year old Rowan and eight month old Lewis.

“I used to be shy. Quite withdrawn before. This has given me experience and awareness. To come through it makes you a different person,” said Will.

“The first two weeks after losing my leg I almost wanted to kill myself, it was that bad. There are a few down sides, but I am in regular contact with guys from the agency and what has happened has boosted my confidence and taught me to appreciate every minute of every day and be positive because I enjoy everything I do.”

Will even wears a chunk of his amputated femur round his neck and the metal from his old leg is still there in his office drawer as a reminder of what he went through.

He joined the Theatre by the Lake in February, 2007 as a sales and marketing assistant. Earlier this year he was promoted to ticket sales manager, in charge of a 16 strong department running the box office, dealing with marketing and training and ensuring problems are smoothed out.

“It’s a lovely place to work. Everyone here is fantastic,” he said. Every couple of weeks Will has to go back to the Freeman in Newcastle for scans.

“My consultant is amazing and she fills me with confidence,” he said. “Sometimes I go in to speak to new amputees and encourage them to think what is possible.”

At home Will, Sarah and the children lead a busy life. He has just been to watch a drag racing event, loves mucking about with engines, travelling around Britain and he and Sarah are fans of punk gigs.

“All this opens your eyes to things you took for granted,” he said. “Ninety per cent of everyday life is a challenge for me. It’s a challenge I take head on – it’s the only way.”


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Do you feel safe going to football matches?

1: Yes - there is hardly any trouble compared to the bad old days

2: No - sadly you will always get idiots who spoil if for rest

3: Depends - some clubs' fans are far worse than others

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