Alex Lewis is a man who truly personifies the concept of refusing to give up on life. In November 2013, the father of one caught what he thought was simply “man flu.” However, his sickness soon developed into toxic shock syndrome, which had devastating effects.
A flesh-eating bug was attacking his body, and doctors had only one option to save his life: amputating his limbs. They gave him only a three-percent survival, but Lewis was determined to make it. He battled against the odds to make a remarkable recovery, and today, he has proven his skeptics wrong, and is busy living his best life with his wife, Lucy Townsend, and his son, Sam.
This is the incredible story of Alex Lewis.
It’s easy to complain about small things in our everyday lives. Maybe your morning coffee was a bit cold, the bus was running late, or that television show you watched last night wasn’t as good as you had hoped it would be.
Sure, it’s okay to complain about things – we all, after all, live different lives. However, at the same time, it’s essential that once in a while, we stop for a second to appreciate what we have, even though we might not be living in the most ideal setting.
From now on, every time I feel like I don’t have the energy to complete a small task – such as doing the dishes – or simply feel like complaining about the little troubles in life, I will always think of Alex lewis. The father of one has endured a truly traumatic time alongside his family, and his life changed forever in 2013.
What he thought was a cold turned into a life-threatening situation, but against all odds, Lewis made it out alive. Today, he’s proven that you can do incredible things with a fighting spirit, such as, for example, climbing a mountain – without having arms or legs.
Alex Lewis, from Stockbridge, in Hampshire, England, and his wife Lucy Townsend, are happily living their lives together.
In 2013, they had settled down, were raising their then-two-year-old son Sam, and ran the Greyhound pub – a former Michelin Pub of the Year – and the King’s Arms in nearby Lockerley. Alex was an interior designer and a builder by trade, and loved going to the pub with friends and playing golf.
It seemed like nothing could stop the 32-year-old from enjoying his time with his family and friends. Then, in November of 2013, everything came crashing down.
Alex caught a bad cold, which his wife Lucy first thought was a “man flu.” Both Alex and his son, Sam, fell ill, but it didn’t appear to be a big deal. A little bit of sleep and rest would probably be enough to cure it, or so the family thought.
Infection penetrated deep into his tissues and organs
“Because we owned and lived in a pub and came into contact with lots of different people, I assumed it was a seasonal cold and thought it started off as man flu,” Alex Lewis told Metro.
However, Alex never got better.
Instead, he became feverish, and soon started to pass blood in his urine. His skin turned purple, and by that point, Alex and Lucy were sure that this wasn’t any ordinary cold.
It turned out that Alex had caught a streptococcal infection (type A). On November 17, 2013, he was rushed to hospital in Winchester, England, and doctors discovered that the infection had penetrated deep into his tissues and organs. It had triggered blood poisoning – or sepsis – a life-threatening condition that can cause several organs to fail. He had contracted shock syndrome, septicemia, and necrotizing fascitis – and his body was attacking itself from the inside out.
The family’s life was turned upside down within hours. Speaking to The Guardian, his wife Lucy recalled the horrible moment at the hospital when she thought Alex would die.
“I called an ambulance, and within eight minutes, they were there. At the hospital, we went straight into resuscitation, and I was told to say goodbye. His kidneys were shutting down, and they were going to put him on life support,” she recalled.
Alex recalled arriving at the hospital, but after that, everything was “a blur.”
Doctors determined Alex only had a three-percent chance of survival within days of arriving. The skin on his arms and legs, and part of his face had turned black.
A flesh-eating bug poisoned his body
“They were going to turn my life support off, but they wanted to give me one more night to see if I improved, and they wanted to give my family a chance to say goodbye,” Alex told Metro.
“I cannot imagine what Lucy and my mum were going through.
“Having spoken to them since it happened, I think they were more in shock as they couldn’t believe something so incredibly invasive was happening so quickly,” he added.
“I don’t remember being in excruciating pain at this point, but my family remembers seeing me in absolute agony.”
Alex’s limbs had been infected with a flesh-eating bug which started to poison his body. At first, the infection hadn’t spread to his most vital organs, but doctors knew it would eventually. He was told they had no option but to amputate his left arm above the elbow as soon as he was off of life support.
“It was a case of ‘this arm is killing me, so it has to go,’” Alex recalled.
Only, it didn’t end with one arm. Over the course of months, Alex had to have all of his limbs amputate, as well as parts of his face cut away.
“I can remember seeing my legs in hospital and how they were getting blacker and blacker,” he said. “The blackness was creeping up towards my waist. I don’t remember seeing my left arm in that condition, but I can remember my legs vividly.”
Alex Lewis got skin from his shoulder to his lips
As parts of Alex’s face, mostly his lip, had been infected, he had to have surgery to fix it.
Salisbury-based plastic surgeon Alexandra Crick performed the surgery – using skin from his shoulder to replace parts of his lips. Lewis said it was “brutal.”
“It would take me about an hour to eat a sandwich at night, and that was with the help of the nurse,” he told the Daily Mail.
Lewis became the first-ever person to have surgery to cover both his top and bottom lips at once, with one single piece of skin.
“The last available skin for surgery was on my shoulder,” Lewis explained. “So they replaced the temporary flap with that. All my other skin had to be used for grafts or was scarred.”
“Having my bottom and top lip done at the same time like this was a world first. It’s one piece of skin, and it was like if you imagine placing a bag in your mouth and then sewing around the edges. After the original operation, I had to have them every three or four months,” Lewis added.
His face was pretty much unrecognizable after surgery. His son Sam was too scared to come near him.
Alex Lewis – work after near-death infection
“It helped that he was so young when it happened. A lot of the gruesome stuff passed him by,” Alex told The Guardian. Lucy added that she tried to explain to Sam what had happened in childlike terms.
“We talk about Power Rangers a lot in our house, and we said Alex was going to be a red Power Ranger. That’s how I could explain it to a two-year-old – that his arms were coming off and being replaced. For a two or three-year-old, that was quite cool.”
After months, Alex was finally able to leave the hospital, though the life that awaited him and his family would be very different. Fortunately, doctors were able to rescue his right arm at the elbow, which was crucial. He raised thousands of pounds for prosthetic arms that allowed him to eat with metal pincers.
Meanwhile, the surgery to cover his top and bottom lips was a great success; today, Alex can speak just as well as he could before the terrible events.
“That one elbow is his whole independence,” Lucy said.
“I had to relearn everything,” Alex said. “From learning to eat, drink, put my clothes on, to learn to use prosthesis, and to self propel a manual wheelchair.”
Living a life without arms or legs was tough for Lewis, but his son, Sam, was a huge inspiration for him in regaining his independence. As he came back into the real world, Alex also realized that he wanted to do good, and decided to use his situation in the best way possible.
Raising money to construct a wheelchair factory in Ethiopia
He and his wife set up The Alex Lewis Trust to maximize the support for Alex to allow him the opportunity for a full and independent life.
At the same time, Lewis realized that he could help others and, most importantly, other disabled people. So, besides working as a motivational speaker, he also engaged himself in several tech projects.
Alex got involved in research projects with prosthesis design. He has tested several things, such as solar-powered, battery-assisted four-wheeled handles – designed by masters students at Southampton University. He was also given the opportunity to kayak around the southern tip of Greenland, as well as along a 300km stretch of the Orange River in Namibia.
“Since becoming an amputee, I’ve been fortunate enough to try out a number of training methods to keep my fitness up, working with physios and visiting the Help for Heroes training facilities,” Lewis said.
“I’ve had first-rate guidance, but nothing has been as effective as EMS training, especially in such a short space of time.
“It’s amazing how the machine helps me to engage muscles I haven’t felt since I lost my arms and legs,” he added.
“I feel stronger in training, daily life tasks are easier, and I’ve gained greater confidence that I can take on these challenges.”
“We aim to improve the lives of the mobility impaired globally”
Moreover, Alex helped set up the Wild Wheelchairs Project, which aims to improve the lives of mobility impaired persons globally. The project also raises money to finance the construction and operation of a wheelchair manufacturing facility in Ethiopia.
In 2019, he climbed one of Africa’s tallest mountains using a specially-adapted buggy.
“We successfully cycled through the Simien Mountain range in Ethiopia and ultimately up 4,200 meters of their highest mountain Ras Dashen,” Lewis explained.
“We disembarked at that point, and I climbed the last 300m to the summit.”
He added: “We used this opportunity to highlight the exclusion of the disabled in society in Ethiopia. We have also set up The Wild Wheelchairs Project, where we aim to improve the lives of the mobility impaired globally.”
Lucy, Alex, and Sam’s lives have changed plenty since 2013, but as Lucy says, she doesn’t see his disability. She clarified that she’s not his caretaker, but his wife.
So how is Alex doing today? Though he’s lost his limbs, he is the same person as before, and doesn’t let his disability be an obstacle. Instead, the loving father and husband is doing his best to help others, and spread information and knowledge about his situation.
This is Alex Lewis today
In fact, Lewis says that the year he lost his limbs was “the best year” of his life.
“I’ve lived more of a life in the past four years than I did in the previous 33, and it’s made me realize how much I love Lucy and Sam,” Alex told Metro.
“There was so much I regretted not doing when I had arms and legs, but I am not letting that happen again. I would not change anything, not in a heartbeat.”
Sam was afraid of his father when he was stuck in the hospital. However, with time, he understood that his dad is the same loving person as before, in spite of his disabilities.
“He’s fine about everything now, and everything I do is to show that disability is not a problem. You just have to push on a find a way,” Alex said of his son. “He sees me as quite resilient, and as he gets older, he just accepts that this is me.
“I don’t want him to see me as someone who needs help, and because I am disabled, I get to bring home some cool equipment for him to play with,” he added.