Mayday surgeon wins recognition for saving diabetic patients’ legs

Monday, August 10, 2009, 18:00

by Aline Nassif

To her patients, surgeon Stella Vig is something of a phenomenon at Mayday Hospital.

Her gift is saving thousands of diabetic patients the agony of losing a leg.

The 42-year-old vascular surgeon and diabetes expert has received two prestigious awards in the last few weeks for her work.

The merited recognition has come about because, since December 2006, she has presided over a 30 per cent drop in the number of major amputations at the Thornton Heath hospital.

It is mainly down to a procedural innovation, where all diabetic patients are automatically fast-tracked to her department for treatment and advice.

She explained: “Surgically there’s nothing different here at Mayday but, instead of having diabetic patients spread across the hospital, we keep them all in one place.

“With diabetics who get blood supply problems it could be a matter of 24 to 48 hours before they face amputation, so the sooner we see them the better chance they have of avoiding that.”

Sufferers of diabetes are particularly prone to having to have their feet amputated.

Stella said: “Because they have such poor blood supply they’re often completely unaware that their feet are in trouble, so it’s up to us to act fast on their behalf.

“Diabetics feel nothing. They could have huge holes at the bottom of their foot and never know.”

Stella’s team comprises of co-consultant surgeon Josh Derodra, physiotherapists, podiatrists [chiropodists], occupational therapists, visiting social workers as well as nurses and other medical staff.

All 49 beds across her Fairfield Ward 1 and neighbouring Fairfield Ward 2 – which treats diabetics with medical as opposed to vascular problems – are usually full, so Stella’s team are careful to prioritise the urgent cases.

She said: “We can’t take everybody but we do ensure each patient gets the right treatment.

“People with simple problems get treatment in the community, with the support of district nurses and GPs.

“Otherwise, they are kept in the ward for as long as it takes to treat them properly so they don’t come back with more problems.”

Statistically, patients with “diabetic feet” have a 40 per cent chance of suffering a recurrence within five years, so Stella insists on regular check-ups.

“Losing a leg is like losing your mum or a first degree relative – it has the same psychological effect,” she said.

“It dramatically affects your social life, your work and even family relations.

“I once had to perform an amputation on a self-employed builder who had failed to seek medical treatment for his foot in time – he effectively lost his life.”


Air stewardess Amanda Jones, from Waddon, suffers from type-1 diabetes.

Despite wearing sensible shoes, the 38-year-old’s awkwardly-shaped broad size 7 feet swelled up and became ulcerated in several places.

After feeling the discomfort she went to see her GP two months ago, who put her on a course of antibiotics.

But an infection in her left foot deteriorated and she checked herself into Mayday. There Stella gave her an aggressive course of antibiotics for 10 days and drained the wounds.

Amanda was hours away from amputation. She said: “I can’t thank Stella enough, she was absolutely fantastic. If I had lost my leg my life would have been ruined. It would have meant the end of my career and a really depressing future on crutches or wheelchair-bound.”

Former police dog handler Tony Harding has mild type-2 diabetes and kidney failure.

The 70-year-old, from Warlingham, was receiving dialysis treatment when he noticed that his left foot had suddenly started to go cold.

When he sought help from Stella she found a blackened toe – the result of a cut-off blood supply – that he hadn’t even noticed.

Tony only lost the dead toe and had to have an operation to unblock a major artery from his groin down to his foot.

He said: “Thanks to Stella I have complete independence. She is an amazing doctor and a wonderful, supportive and kind human being.”

Retired civil servant Tom Butlin has type-2 diabetes and suffered a potentially life-changing infection in his ankle.

It was brought on by “Charcot Foot” disease, where the bones in the foot collapse.

The 78-year-old, from South Croydon, saw Stella in the nick of time, otherwise he would probably now be left with just one leg.

He explained: “It was a pretty shocking sight. It started with a skin infection which seeped into the bones of my ankle and made them collapse.

“I was in a pretty serious situation, but Stella made me feel at home and comfortable at all times.

“Stella’s an incredibly generous person and treats her patients like her friends. I have a lot to thank her for.”

(Thanks to Steve McNeice for sending this article)

Tags: , , , , , , , ,