Whitby lifeboatman's warning after special wellies helped save part of his foot

Devoted Whitby lifeboatman Keith Attridge is featuring in the Legs Matter national campaign for better leg and foot health, after special wellies helped save part of his foot and meant he could go on saving lives at sea.

By Duncan Atkins
Thursday, 7th October 2021, 11:30 am

The 51-year-old plumber, who lives in Whitby, first noticed what he thought was a blister on his big toe in April 2020.

It was actually a foot ulcer, probably caused by a small cut and made worse by nerve damage - a side-effect of his type 2 diabetes.

By the time Keith was referred to a podiatrist, the ulcer was so bad that it had caused a serious infection of the bone and could have resulted in him losing part of his foot.

Whitby lifeboatman Keith Attridge.

“At one point, the podiatrist did talk about amputation”, he said.

“That probably would have put an end to the RNLI work because you need to be able to move around easily and that’s hard when you’re missing a big toe.”

Keith changed his diet and spent several months in the care of the NHS podiatry team at Whitby Hospital, who provided specialist care of his ulcer, including dressing his foot and making him a special set of insoles for his wellies.

“My podiatrist, Gill Sykes, asked me to bring in the shoes that I wore most often, which included my wellies for when I’m on the lifeboat.

"The insoles really help take the pressure off my big toe, which has now fully healed.”

Gill said: “It’s fortunate that Keith sought help when he did.

"With diabetes, he quickly could have lost part of his foot, and even worse, if the infection had spread.”

Keith is supporting the Legs Matter Campaign which runs from October 11 to 15, urging others to take positive action and to make a change for better leg and foot health.

Keith is one of an estimated 1.8 million people a year in the UK who experience a life-threatening or serious problem with their legs and feet, often caused by an underlying issue with circulation or as a result of nerve damage.

He said: “I took myself to A&E because I knew my toe wasn’t right.

"They dressed my foot and gave me antibiotics to clear up the infection.

"This helped for a bit but as soon as I stopped the antibiotics, this blister would come back.

"This went on for months until I was referred to the podiatry team. They’ve just been brilliant.”

Keith’s advice to people with a foot wound that’s not healing is similarly no-nonsense: “Don’t just ignore it!

"I should have seen someone much quicker. My foot was in a real mess by the time I sought help.”

Gill is part of the UK’s Legs Matter Campaign - working to increase understanding, awareness and action for serious lower leg conditions, including leg or foot ulcers, swollen legs and cellulitis.

She said: “We want more people to realise that they have the power to stop their leg or foot problem escalating and becoming more serious.

"We need every patient to take positive action, seek face-to-face medical help faster and to make lifestyle changes.

"If anyone is worried about their legs or feet, they should contact their GP, who would prefer to see them sooner rather than later, and they can also access specialist information on our website.”

During Legs Matter Week, campaigners hope more people will get inspired to make a positive change using tips on the www.legsmatter.org website including self-management, exercise and having a positive mindset.

The site will feature free resources and virtual events, suitable for the public, patients and healthcare professionals, including live Q&A sessions with clinicians and patients.

Book your place in the Legs Matter Lounge via the website.

Keith can now focus on his work and volunteering with the RNLI, which is close to his heart after his step-father, Bill, drowned at sea at Whitby.

“The lifeboat crew recovered his body which meant a lot to us as a family,“ said Keith.

“I started volunteering because I wanted to give something back.

"It can be a tough job. You’re often going into the unknown in horrendous conditions, but you just get out there and get on with it.”