A South Hams mother is struggling to find suitable accommodation for her and her teenage daughter, three months after having her leg amputated below the knee.
Sophie Harris, 31, from Kingston became an amputee in February, following years of struggling with congenital talipes equinovarus, also known as club foot.
She had suffered with the debilitating deformity for her whole life, and following multiple failed corrective surgeries, she took the decision, along with with her consultant of seven years, to amputate.
She hoped that it would enable her to “feel like a normal woman again”, and allow her to concentrate on pursuing a career in the NHS and fulfil a life-long dream of becoming a professional rower.
But three months later, following three further surgeries for an infection not picked up by Mount Gould hospital, Sophie is yet to find a place to live for herself and her 13 year old daughter.
After the operation at Derriford hospital, Sophie was moved to Mount Gould hospital in Plymouth for rehabilitation, before being transferred to South Hams hospital in Kingsbridge. But on arrival, she was almost immediately rushed back to Derriford in an ambulance with a serious infection.
Sophie has a home in Kingston, but following an assessment by her occupational therapist, her house was deemed unsuitable for adaption.
The plan was to move home temporarily following a spell at Kingsbridge hospital - with the plan for her to live in her dining room, with three daily visits from carers.
But with the necessary emergency surgery to deal with the subsequent infection, she has lost her care plan and with it, her access to carers.
Sophie now cannot go home and is stuck in hospital for the foreseeable future. She describes her situation as having “gone full circle. I’m back at square one”.
“I would go home if I could, but I can’t put myself at risk,” Sophie said.
“I used to work in the care industry, so I understand the situation and pressures they’re under, but I just can’t believe that there are suddenly no carers available to me.”
Following registration and assessment through Devon Home Choice, Sophie managed to find a suitable property in South Brent. With South Hams District Council’s disabled facilities grant, she would have been able to have the bath removed and a shower room installed.
But her hopes were dashed when she was informed that Cavanna Homes would be unable to modify the property, due to a clause preventing modification of new-build properties in the first year.
“The property was in my hands, and then taken away,” Sophie explained.
“All they had to do was take a bath out. It’s not a big change, but I was told they were not willing to adapt the home. It is ridiculous that there is no suitable property for someone in my circumstances and situation.”
One social worker even suggested that a nursing home might be the only option left for Sophie, a suggestion that left Sophie speechless.
Her local MP, Gary Streeter has been supportive of her cause, and has written several letters on her behalf.
Mr Streeter said: “I am very supportive of Sophie’s application for suitable rehousing. She has been through a lot. I am confident it will happen, but unfortunately there is no guarantee of precisely when. I will continue to do all I can for her.”
Sophie said: “I search for a home every day and it’s so disheartening. I feel that, because of my age, I have a small support network. I can’t afford to private rent for six months until this is sorted. I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do. I think I’m supposed to move home and make do. It’s just frustrating, nobody will go beyond the call of duty.”
A spokesman for South Hams District Council said: “Anyone in need of adapted accommodation, would be referred to us via their occupational therapist at Devon County Council. There are three routes they can then take, apply for a grant to adapt their existing property, look to move into a property which is already adapted or move to a property which could be easily adapted. This would be dependent on availability of properties which they are happy to move into and done in conjunction with the housing association.
“If and when adapted properties or properties which could be adapted, become available we work closely with the housing associations to ensure that they are advertised appropriately and allocated to someone who requires the adaptation. Much of the adapted accommodation is in sheltered schemes designed for over 50s, because this is where the need is greatest.
“This financial year we have already completed 118 adaptations in the South Hams and last year we did 69 adaptions. We’ve recently secured additional funding from the Better Care Fund of £254,000 to continue to support those people who want to continue living independently in their own home.”
“I’m not 55,” Sophie said. “I wish I could sort out my own accommodation, but I do not have pots of money due to my health problems.”
“I’m 32 in July,” Sophie said, “I just want to live independently. I am disabled, but I don’t want the disability to define my life. I appreciated I need support, but being left in limbo like this affects your mood.
Sophie continued: “It just seems that nobody wants to listen. It’s disheartening, but it seems that I will just have to wait. My daughter has been living with grandma for three months, she needs me back and she needs a childhood. I don’t want her becoming my carer.”
Sophie added: “I’d like to thank my family and friends for their support, and also all the members of the medical profession who have cared for me through this situation.”
Sophie’s original plan of crowd-funding for a life-like and waterproof prosthetic limb to enable her dream of becoming a professional rower has been overshadowed by the chaos surrounding her health and social care. But nonetheless, Sophie is still optimistic that she can return to a normal life with her daughter soon.
Before the operation, she was rowing with Mayflower Offshore Rowing Club in Plymouth and once her life is back on track, she is eager to continue training.
Sophie was transferred to Kingsbridge hospital again this week, and is waiting to hear whether or not her latest bid for a property in Ivybridge has been successful. She should find out next week.