Those familiar with the extraordinary story of Alex Lewis will not be surprised to know I was honoured to receive an invitation to a Press breakfast he was hosting. On Monday morning I journeyed to Balthazar, situated in the heart of Covent Garden. I could not have wished for a more inspiring start to my week.
Aside from the promise of incredible breakfast food, I felt excited to hear from Alex. Joined by several other journalists as well as Bupa-registered paramedical tattooist Karen Betts, we learned first hand all about Alex’s awe-inspiring personal journey to contentment, despite the extreme adversity he has faced in recent years.
Although I feel I could never do it the justice it deserves, let me first provide an overview of Alex’s story.
The Extraordinary Case of Alex Lewis
In 2013, Alex Lewis from Winchester was like any other man his age, with a wife, Lucy, and new baby son.
On November 17th of that year, Alex’s world was turned upside down forever when he was rushed to Winchester ICU, with what he would later find out to be a devastating Strep A infection. Until this point, Alex has only shown symptoms likened to those of the common cold or “man flu” as he often quips upon telling his story to the press.
Before long, his vital organs were being supported mechanically, his blood forced around his body with nora adrenalin. Alex was given a 3% chance of survival. But as we know, Alex fought against the odds and is still with us to tell his story.
Alex had developed Strep A Toxic Shock Syndrome, Septicaemia and NecrotisingFasciitis resulting in the quadruple amputation of all four limbs. As well as this, Alex required skin graft surgery as the infection had devastated his face, in particular, his mouth and lips. With more than a year spent in hospital to rehabilitate him following extensive surgeries – some ground-breaking in the field of reconstructive procedures. In just one year, due to the huge number of surgeries he underwent, Alex reached the annual quota for anaesthetic.
Today, there are less than 10 quadruple amputees living in the UK as a result of septicaemia; with Alex being one of them.
The Alex Lewis Trust
Alex details everything chronologically, with plenty of lighthearted anecdotes thrown in for good measure, in true Alex style. He speaks to us in particular detail about the final stages of his rehabilitation and The Alex Lewis Trust.
“The Trust was set up to help fund rehabilitation costs including wheelchairs, home adjustments, and prosthetics to enable the return to as near normal life as possible.”
Alex goes on to tell us that due to his dramatic change in appearance as a result of the infection, his little boy wouldn’t kiss him. I can only imagine how heartbreaking this would have been at the time. Alex’s surgeons explained to him during his rehabilitation that generally, the facial disfigurement will hit you harder than anything else – more so than the loss of limbs – just because it’s always the first thing people look at.
When his plastic surgeon suggested that Alex tattoo his lips back on to give the illusion of a full mouth, he felt apprehensive (to say the least). A local tattoo shop in Salsbury was suggested. Feeling that they’d be more familiar with tattooing football team logos and ‘Mum’, Alex decided that he could probably do better – opting for a Bupa-registered professional instead. Alex approached esteemed permanent cosmetics artist and paramedical tattooist, Karen Betts, through the Trust. He knew Karen had worked with the amazing Katie Piper Foundation in order to reconstruct facial features for burns victims. With this in mind, Alex believed Karen was the perfect person for the job upon entering this crucial phase of his rehabilitation; the reconstruction of his newly grafted mouth and lips with specialist paramedical tattooing.
A 12 month period, with 1 appointment per month saw Karen try a range of methods figuring out through trial and error how to make the pigment best sit on Alex’s skin grafts. With pigment alignment treatment, followed by a 3d lip creation treatment using her own specialist K.B Pro products, Karen masterfully recreated the appearance of a more defined mouth for Alex. As well as this, Karen added freckles, moles and tiny ‘imperfections’ to blend the edges of his skin graft more seamlessly.
It’s been a fantastic year for Alex, who tells us that he has done more since the amputations and skin grafts than he ever did before. He wants to do absolutely everything he can in life, to show his son that ‘if Daddy can do it, Sam can do it, too’.
During breakfast, not a minute goes by where Alex fails to make us chuckle with his brilliant sense of humour. He jokingly recounts the time he and his best friend got drunk at Nobu after appearing on ITV’s This Morning with Philip and Holly. He is now living life as normally as he can, as a loving husband and great dad – with plenty of Motivational Speaking, research and charity projects on the horizon. He is working with University students in the capacity of research projects, in the hope of producing more affordable prosthetic limbs, aids for amputees and wheelchairs.
Alex says that whilst medicine is most assuredly advancing, and people ARE being saved from the brink of death – there’s a long way to go where aftercare is concerned. He explains to us, quite rightly, that after you save someone’s life, they need to have a quality of life.
Alex’s adventures are by no means winding down any time soon. He tells us of his momentous plans to cycle around Africa and once out there, help to build wheelchair workshops. With the majority of African countries having little to no disability equipment or supplies in some areas, this act will have a huge impact for so many people with nothing to give them a quality of life after amputation (or other conditions that require disability aids).
He stresses how he has had a fantastic support group around him, crediting his own community for their generosity in all areas. Eternally grateful to his friends, the NHS, his surgeon, his plastic surgeon and Karen Betts – from a medical standpoint, he says everyone involved in his rehabilitation went above and beyond. His wife and son, however, were a constant source of love and strength, without whom he would perhaps not have had such a positive recovery.
Karen Betts has made it her mission to support Alex by providing permanent cosmetics procedures free for life, and furthermore raising money for the Alex Lewis Trust by donating 1% of profits. For more information on how you can support Alex’s rehabilitation visit The Alex Lewis Trust or Jumblebee to donate.