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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 June, 2003, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Telling the children

By Stuart Hughes
BBC News

Stuart Hughes
Stuart with an 'artificial limb' built by nephew Alessandro, 12
BBC producer Stuart Hughes lost part of his right leg after stepping on a landmine in northern Iraq.

Stuart, 31, has returned to Cardiff, where he is being fitted with an artificial leg.

In part seven of his weekly News Online diary, Stuart charts his recovery.

"What do we tell the children?

It's a question that has preoccupied my family since I returned to Britain and my surgeon first told me I was going to lose my foot.

Although I have no children of my own, my two nephews, 12-year-old Alessandro and five-year-old Ben, and my two-year-old niece Elin needed some explanation of why their parents and grandparents were suddenly acting so strangely.

On the one hand we didn't want to upset or frighten them.

On the other we couldn't simply pretend that nothing had happened.

I felt like an amputated Pied Piper of Hamelin

Kids are far too smart for that.

They would see through the facade in a second.

We agreed on a strategy of gradual exposure.

The aim was to try to show them that although something bad had happened to their Uncle Stuart, it wasn't something to be scared of.

Hidden

I wanted to try to explain, as gently as possible, that I'm still the same doting uncle I always was.

Shortly after the amputation, we let the children play in my hospital room.

I kept the plaster cast discreetly hidden beneath a blanket.

Drawing of Stuart Hughes by nephew Ben
Stuart, drawn by nephew Ben, 5

In a room filled with brightly-coloured get well cards and balloons, not to mention an ample supply of chocolate, they soon seemed to feel at ease.

Once I had been discharged, my girlfriend, Aileen, came up with a brilliant idea.

She took the children's' felt-tipped pens and drew a happy smiling face on the bottom of the cast.

My youngest nephew, Ben, looked on with increasing curiosity.

Then he took a pen of his own and scrawled his name on the plaster.

Their ability to adapt has amazed and delighted me

Soon, Ben was bringing me one-legged portraits he'd drawn.

Significantly, he always drew me smiling.

I was heartened by this, as it seemed to suggest he felt quite comfortable about his newly limbless uncle.

Before long, Ben was hitching up one leg and following along behind me as I hopped around the house.

I felt like an amputated Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Stuart Hughes' nephews Elin and Ben
Stuart Hughes' nephews Elin and Ben in his wheelchair

With a child's typical bluntness he would shout, "you've only got one leg! You lost the other one in the war!" before letting out a peal of maniacal laughter.

I didn't mind. The most important thing was that his fear had been overcome.

Not to be outdone, Ben's older brother Alessandro set his mind to finding his own way of coming to terms with my amputation.

He built me an artificial limb with his plastic construction set, complete with moving "toes."

Ben and Alessandro's younger sister, Elin, is still too young to fully appreciate what's happened.

What she does appreciate, however, is being pushed down the street in my wheelchair at high speed.

For a two-year-old, a wheelchair is just plain good fun.

Contrary to my early fears about how the children would react, they now treat me just the same as they always did.

Their ability to adapt has amazed and delighted me."


SEE ALSO:
Learning to walk again
19 Jun 03  |  Wales
Taking the first steps
11 Jun 03  |  Wales
Back on the road
05 Jun 03  |  Wales
Face to face with landmine
29 May 03  |  Wales
Down to earth with a bump
22 May 03  |  Wales
Mine victim's road to recovery
15 May 03  |  Wales


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