Quadruple Amputee Alex Lewis: Finding Your Way Out of Hell—and Thriving

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There are people in this world who just blow your socks off with their courage and strength despite the massive adversities they had to go through.

Alex Lewis, our guest in this interview, is one of those people.

Seeing the following photo of Alex will undoubtedly raise a few questions for you, such as: What in the world happened to him?

How to Find Your Way Out of Hell

Before Alex lost his limbs and his lips, he was—as he describes himself—just a regular guy, with a partner and a two-year-old son, who ran a restaurant and who was primarily a stay-at-home dad.

All this, however, changed in November 2013 when he fell ill. In the beginning, he and his wife thought he just had a common cold. But as the days progressed, things got worse and worse until one day he collapsed and had to be immediately rushed to the hospital.

Now, I will leave Alex to tell you more of this story in the interview, but what Alex contracted was a Strep A infection

Strep A is a group of bacteria commonly found in the throat and skin. Most people would simply get a sore throat with Strep A, and that’s it. But, for some reason, Strep A led to toxic shock syndrome for Alex, which further led to septicaemia—another term used to describe blood poisoning.

This eventually led to the loss of both his arms, both his legs, and even his lips, over the course of many months.

I know, it’s shocking to read—and even more so to hear Alex share it.

However, what might come as a surprise to many is what Alex says in the interview and has repeated several times in all his other interviews: that he lives a great life today.

“Meaning” is the word that has gotten him through hell to the place where he thrives today in his life.

Today, Alex Lewis is known for being a source of inspiration and an example for others to show that, no matter what has happened and no matter what you have lost—even if it is all your limbs—life can still be good. 

Of course, this does not mean that the road there would not be hard. It certainly has been really hard for Alex. 

But, once again, if any of you reading this are struggling or suffering at this time, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

I sincerely hope that you will find the same knowledge and wisdom that Alex has learned from his struggles and adversities to be helpful in bettering your own life.

Websites:


Books: 

  • – Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (This seminal book, which has been called “one of the outstanding contributions to psychological thought” by Carl Rogers and “one of the great books of our time” by Harold Kushner, has been translated into more than fifty languages and sold over sixteen million copies. “An enduring work of survival literature,” according to the New York Times, Viktor Frankl’s riveting account of his time in the Nazi concentration camps, and his insightful exploration of the human will to find meaning in spite of the worst adversity, has offered solace and guidance to generations of readers since it was first published in 1946.)
  • – When Breath Becomes Air (At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated.)


Videos:

  • – The Extraordinary Case of Alex Lewis (Documentary. “The Extraordinary Case of Alex Lewis” charts the story of a man fighting to rebuild his relationships after a devastating infection took his limbs, parts of his face and his independence.)

The transcription is, for the most part, AI-transcribed and is currently 85% accurate. We are still weeding out some minor errors.

The IPS Academy
Before we go on to the interview, have you already taken a look at The IPS Academy? The IPS Academy provides online courses from some of the best instructors out there on mental health, personal development, lifestyle, nutrition, mindfulness improving your life quality, etc. Each course we offer has been made in collaboration with an instruct who has also been a guest here on The IPS podcast. Have a look to see if there’s a course to your liking. Read the full course descriptions and check out the thousands of positive reviews from students who have taken the course by going to TheIPSProject.com/academy. Or check the description of this episode to find the link. With that, let’s dig into the interview.

Alex Lewis
At that moment when people realize actually “Yeah he is just a normal bloke and he’s missing a few bits”. It’s lovely. I don’t want them to feel that “Oh, God, he is disabled and he can’t do this, he can’t do that.” I want people to see what I can do, not what I can’t.

Jellis Vaes
This is episode 032 with Alex Lewis. What’s going on everyone? Jellis here. Your host here on The IPS Podcast and the founder of The IPS Project, the educational platform on life. Thank you for tuning in. I am so glad that I can welcome you here on another episode. Just a quick note before I introduce our guests for this interview. The interview starts off in the first ten minutes with some minor technical problems. The Internet was not the most stable in the beginning. However, just give it a few minutes, as it does truly improve. So after ten minutes, you will not notice anything anymore. It will be just a smooth talk from there on. Having said that, our guest in this episode is Alex Lewis, a quadruple amputee. And yes, you heard that right, a quadruple amputee. He is one of those examples of people in this world who show, I mean, just quite astonishingly, that you can get out of hell and thrive again in life. Now, I’m sure upon hearing that Alex is a quadruple amputee, that you might immediately wonder what happened to him. Right? Now, this is something I will leave for Alex to share as we talk about it’s in depth during the interview.

Jellis Vaes
What I do want to share, however, are some of the many incredible things Alex has done over these past years since he has lost his limbs. To give you an idea of the kind of person you are about to spend some quality time with, so here is just a few things of the many more things that he has done. Alex has kayaked around the southern tip of Greenland, becoming the first quadruple amputee to do so. He has completed a 320 miles expedition along the Orange River in South Africa, and he has climbed Ethiopia’s tallest mountain. These are just, again, a few of the many more adventures that he has done, which we will talk about way more in the interview as well. He has also taken part in countless innovation and technology projects and studies to drive advances in prosthetic devices and make them more affordable for all. Also, he has helped open a wheelchair manufacturing and repair facility in Ethiopia. There is so much more that Alex has done and is planning to do, but I will leave those for you to discover in the interview. Now, to find the things mentioned in this interview, such as book recommendations and ways to connect with Alex, you can do so in the show notes located in the description of these episodes, or you can also go directly to ipsproject.blog and search for Alex Lewis to find them. Lastly, if you’d like to engage more with this interview, you can also watch the videotaped version on our YouTube channel. If you’re not doing that right now, just search for The IPS projects and for Alex Lewis. To make things easier, simply check out the description of this episode as I will put a link there to the video. Having said all this, I hope you will find this interview not alone inspiring, but that you will also gain a couple of life lessons and bits of wisdom to apply to your own situation. From Alex, a man who lost all his limps, yet found a way to thrive through life.

Jellis Vaes
Alex, a warm welcome here to The IPS Podcast. It’s so good to finally talk to you.

Alex Lewis
Thank you. Thank you for inviting me on the show.

Jellis Vaes
So, of course, we’re going to talk about your story and just, like, what happened to you and all the lessons that you just learned along this wild journey that you’ve been on. But I’m just too curious, actually, that’s why I’m going to start the interview by asking you recently came back from Nanibia, like, what is it, like three, four weeks ago? I’m just curious to ask, how was your trip and could you tell us why you went to there?

Alex Lewis
Yeah, so a few years ago, I met a guy who just retired from the city of London, very successful, and when he retired, he felt that he wanted to do more adventurous stuff, cooler stuff, really. And it was just by chance. I’m at the chat at a show and he said, Look, I know you like adventure. Do you want to do something with me and maybe we’ll go to Ethiopia and we’ll do some traveling? And I was like, well, yeah, sounds great. Why not? So we got chatting and two years back then to Ethiopia, had an amazing time, and we worked with the University of Sahans here in the UK. And the student built me a custom made, solar assisted, battery powered, four wheeled, hand cycle, cool, world’s first weirdest vehicle. And it was designed for me that my prosthetics would attach to it, and I’d be able to cycle it through Ethiopia’s mountain ranges and ultimately summit their height mountain. Then we did that in 2019. It was amazing, fantastic trip. That was life altering. And then David and I decided that we would do the Wild Wheelchairs project. So we set the project up and we said, Right, what we’ll do is we’ll make vehicles to cover terrain such as mountains, desert snow and ice water, and then something to do with the air. That was our master plan. So we ticked the mountain box back in 2019.

Jellis Vaes
Sorry to interrupt. You did that together with someone else who also was an amputee, right?

Alex Lewis
I did. Jay Emebet. Yeah, she double amputee, Ethiopian girl. She had her legs amputated. She hit by a truck when she was three years old. She was playing on the road trunk, didn’t see her, wiped her legs out and she was incredibly fortunate to survive. A health care in Ethiopia is sketchy at best, and it was lucky that she was pretty close to a city and she got the right care and right attention when she needed it. But when she was taken home at a hospital by her mother, when she returned to the village that she lived in, the tribal elders took her mum to one side and said, look, Emma Bet is of no benefit to our community. You might as well leave her in the ditch to die. She’s never going to be part of what we’ve created here. And Mother was mortified and horrified, really, at their attitude, and moved into the city in buffetar. And now Emma Vet has become this incredible voice of disability in Ethiopia and an amazing wheelchair basketball star. And she’s an absolute she’s a goddess, she’s an incredible lady. So I went through the mountain together and it was a one off.

They’d never seen a quadruple amputee, not a white guy like me, and they’d never seen a double amputee in Ethiopian on a vehicle like we had ever cycling through villages and their regions to get to the highest mountain. It was just incredible. And we also set up a wheelchair factory to make affordable wheelchairs when we were there, because we felt, or I felt that going into these countries, having great times is one thing, but I felt that I had much more to give and more to offer when I was there. And Hadar is still making wheelchairs now. Can buy them for $200. Wheelchair I use about this. So there’s no way in the world an Ethiopian on $1,000 a year is ever going to be able to afford singing or singing and dancing wheelchair like me. So it was about supplying the right equipment for the region at the right price, and that’s what we tried to achieve with the factory. Unfortunately, Ethiopia went into a lot of civil war when we left in the north where we were, and there’s an awful lot of amputees now making their way to Bahadar, where our unit is, but they’re looking for prosthetics crutches walking frames.

It’s quite brutal, what’s happening over there. So the factory has kind of turned its attention to helping victims of war, which is great. It’s amazing, it’s a real legacy and it’s something that we’re incredibly passionate about. So in 2020, we agreed that we go to Mongolia to take a vehicle across the Gobi Desert. We cycle 500 km over ten days, work with charities over in Mongolia to see if we could help amputees over there. Obviously, the Pandemic came along, scuffed all those plans, and then I had to have some surgery on my arm last November unplanned, which meant that I couldn’t do an event I was dreaming of for this year. And then David got in contact and said, look, why don’t we try and go to Namibia? Great country, I’ve been there. We could ship out. Windtook is only 300 km from the coast. It could really work across hospital. It sounds like a great idea. Let’s do it. Then. We shipped the bike out in April. Unfortunately, when it got to Namibia, an east wind blew across the desert, which meant that the container ship couldn’t dock at the port. The container ship kept going with our bike and ended up on the east coast of Africa, just outside of Durban.

When I arrived in Windhook, I had an Italian unicycle attachment, a battery powered attachment that clips onto my wheelchair, which is designed for the streets of Italy. Milan. Not for the desert, man. It gets worse. So it was the only vehicle that I take on the plane legally, so I had one battery, one little mobility. There was no way we could get the Hand Cycle to me in time for the event. And then four of our team out of ten had COVID, so they couldn’t travel. So we went depleted in numbers anyway, and I took my little mobility scooter across the desert. Bless it. It did about 100. When I say it’s most UN, my spine was in bits by the end of the trip. Yeah, man, I was just aching, really aching. But it was really cool and the country was amazing. It wasn’t the event that we had planned, but we couldn’t odds the east winds pushing the boat or making unable to dock. So instead, when we got back to the UK, actually, before we got back to the UK, I got in contact with Rosemary. We’ve got to use the bike. It’s not right that the students spent their year building it and they don’t get to see me sit on it and thrash it around somewhere. So in November, I’m going to do a Le Mon event just down the road from where I live, on a piece of military land, which is going to do ten of those 24 hours to complete my 500 kilometer journey on the Hand Cycle wow. And hopefully raise some money for a local charity. So there’s a plan B or a plan A. So many different plans. Yeah. Namibia was beautiful, very grounding. I feel very at peace when I’m there. I love the expanse, I love the terrain, I love how hard it is. I like the aggravation that goes with it. I enjoy the problems. And I was with my best mate for two weeks, Chris Bagley. So we had a great time.

Jellis Vaes
This is such a beautiful glimpse of your current life and of your current mindsets, who you are today. But it took you a while. You had to go literally through hell first to get to where you are today. Could you take us back to November 2013, right, like, nine years ago? Could you just take us back to that day or those days when all this was happening or when all this started?

Alex Lewis
Yeah. So in 2013, up until that point, I’d done two things right in my life. I met Lucy, my partner, and I had my son, Sam, and they were by far my two greatest achievements at that point. And I was a stay at home dad when when Sam was born, lucy was adamant that she wasn’t going to stay at home. She’s a businesswoman, an entrepreneur. She was desperate to get back to work. So 48 hours after my son was born, she went back to work. And then I was holding this amazing baby and I just loved the next two and a half years. I spent time with him. I was with him all the time. It was great, but honestly, I wasn’t a great dad at that point. Lucy and I had two businesses, two pubs. We had a restaurant over in Stockbridge, which is the town that I lived in for most of my life. And we had a little countryside pub about half an hour, two businesses, very similar, very close to each other. And we were setting up the restaurant, so the pub was existing. I was kind of in charge of that one, but not doing a very good job.

Alex Lewis
And Lucy was setting up the new restaurant and just crushing it. She was doing really well and I was a bit kind of listless in my life. I didn’t really know what I was going to do. My son was getting to an age where he would go to preschool without my hands. What was I do? I’m not sure. And I remember I was always a big drinker, but as soon as we started to live above the pub, my drinking got out of control. So I was probably drinking 80, 90 pints a week and then maybe two or three bottles of wine at night every day. So from midday to midnight, really, I was drinking.

Jellis Vaes
This is a very personal question now, but do you know why you were drinking so much? Like, what led to you drinking so much during those years?

Alex Lewis
I think all it was I used to love a party and I used to love going out, and for whatever reason, I was quite good at drinking. And I think it got out of control because I just didn’t know where my life was heading. I couldn’t see where I fit or where I was going to fit. And I guess looking back, I didn’t know who to ask, who to talk to. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and I could have done anything. In hindsight, I could have done whatever I wanted. I was very fortunate in a position we were in. But then, for whatever reason, I just never asked and I never looked well enough. I didn’t seek out the right information. In hindsight, I should have done that many, many years prior to falling ill. But then, lucky for me, I did fall ill that November because of the restaurant and the pub, customers are coming in all the time with colds and flus, and we were seeing hundreds of thousands of people a week. And I just caught what I thought was man flu, common cold. And after a few days it got worse, and then it got really bad.

I’d never been that ill, ever. I remember hot and cold sweats. I remember bad stomach, didn’t want to eat, didn’t want to drink. And then after about a couple of weeks, I was really ill and it became flu. So I thought I’d never had flu, so I just assumed this was normal for flu symptoms. And then one night I went balloon and there was blood in my urine. Okay? I remember thinking, oh man, what’s going on here? And I went back to bed. I spoke to Lucy. Lucy was about half asleep saying, look, go back to sleep. In the morning, we’ll call the doctor. I remember going back to sleep. And then when I woke in the morning, lucy had gone to set up the restaurant and I was at the pub on my own. My son had been at my parents the night before, so he wasn’t there. And I remember waking up and my head was just absolutely a huge headache, shocking headache. And then I realized I couldn’t really move my arms properly. I couldn’t use my legs properly. I was semi conscious. I was all over the place. I tried to put my clothes on. I couldn’t do it. And then I remember a knock on my back door. So I remember sort of staggering, almost sliding downstairs to get to the back door. And when I opened the door, I managed to unlock it. I don’t know how I managed to do that, but I managed to unlock it. And then when I opened the door, lucy and my stepfather were there. And their faces, their faces were in horror because all my skin is starting to turn purple, starting to balloon, a real mess. So they called the paramedics straight away. The paramedics arrived within five minutes. Five minutes. Luckily enough for me, it was a Sunday morning, so there was no traffic and as soon as they got to me, they said, right, we need to get into ICU immediately. At this point, I’m not even sure he’s going to make it in the ambulance. So we need to get to ICU within 15 minutes. Winchester on a good day, was about 20 minutes away, and luckily it was a Sunday, so we just shot straight through, no traffic, got to Winchester in time. I remember the double doors flying open, lots of doctors descending on me, asking me questions, and I couldn’t really answer.

And Lucy was trying her best to answer questions, and there was a shift change in the consultants. And the new consultant came over. He just arrived and he said, do we know what this gentleman’s suffering with? One of the doctors said, well, we think he’s got bowel’s disease because he lives near walks his dog on the river bank. He’s got storm drains in the back garden of the pub in the restaurant, so it could be Vials disease. And the consultant said, no, I’ve seen it once before in South Africa. This is strep a. And with that, I was placed on life support. And the next four days, I have no recollection whatsoever.

Jellis Vaes
Could you just explain a second what strep A is for anyone listening who’s not familiar with it?

Alex Lewis
So strep A, it just leads to septicemia, basically. And we’ve all got strep in our throats. In the UK, we don’t call it strep, we just call it the sore throat. But I know in the US it’s strep throat. And that’s all I had. And you can get different. I’ve had strep A, BG, the alphabet of strep.

Jellis Vaes
For some reason, it’s just the bacteria, right?

Alex Lewis
Yeah. For whatever reason, my immune system didn’t want to fight something that I’d had before. I had colds when I was younger, as an adult, and I was absolutely fine. But for whatever reason, this time it didn’t choose to fight, and it led to sepsaemia. Sepsis, basically, toxic shock syndrome. I had some necrotizing fasciitis thrown in there. So basically, my extremities were being were being destroyed from the outside in. So attacks like your nose, your lips, your ears, fingertips, toes. And so my body was getting blacker and blacker over time as the infection was drawing. And what it tries to do is get to your heart to wipe you out. And the problem is, if it gets above your waist and near to your internal organs, then you’re in real trouble. So we didn’t know any of this at that point. I was just fighting to stay alive. I didn’t know I was doing that. And from my trip in Ethiopia, and also in Namibia, the guy, the doctor that comes with me is the man that saved my life. Okay, wow. This guy. We were chatting, Namibia, watching this amazing sunset, just jeopardized. And we were talking about the documentary that was made in Ethiopia. And I said, I always thought I had 3% chance of survival, so I’ve always said, I’m sure someone told me that early doors. And we were talking about it and he said, Mate, you didn’t even have that, you were less than a percent. He said, you were out, you were gone. And luckily he tried something. He gave me a massive dose of steroids as well as a drug that apparently in in the, in the nursing and the doctor fraternity. The drug that they gave me, I can’t remember the name of it, but they call it embalming fluid. They were almost certain I was on the way out, but the steroid, the massive dose of steroids, for whatever reason, brought me back and woke me up and I came around unawares of what gone on. I couldn’t really remember much of the past two or three weeks. Sure. I remember lots of people coming to see me and I just assumed that because I’d woken up in hospital that I was going to get better. And this was the beginning of my I got through the worst of it. I’m alive, so now I’m just going to get better and walk out. That was in my mind. But Winchester Hospital said, look, we can’t treat you anymore, we’re going to hand you over to Salisbury, which is about 40 minutes away from where I was. And they wouldn’t tell me why. They just said, we cannot continue with your care. That was the official tagline and we didn’t really know why. We kept asking, but they wouldn’t tell us. So I just see that going to salsa just meant I had a few weeks there and then I go home. It was just a move, different hospital bed. I didn’t understand. And then when I got to Salisbury, I met my plastic surgeon and she then delivered the bombshell that was I was going to lose my left arm.

Jellis Vaes
You know what the reason is? Because the bacteria just killed it.

Alex Lewis
Yes, basically, the bacteria, it killed everything. So it was killing the tissue, the muscle, the nerve endings, it was all being destroyed and it was working its way up my arm. And my left arm was worse affected at the beginning, but that was the first amputation because it got so close to my heart. They said, we’ll have to amputate your left arm almost immediately. And then over the next few weeks, I lost both legs above the knee. They saved my right arm with the pioneering surgery that involved taking a 17 inch of my 17 inch flap of my left shoulder and back. And they rebuilt my right arm from the shoulder down because they felt if they could save one hand, that would be the key to independent living down the line. So they did that, which was amazing. And then they moved a piece of my right back and shoulder and they moved that onto my face a few months later. So I’ve had about 130 hours, I think, of plastic surgery, all told, over the last eight or nine years. And, yeah, it was a torrid time. I was unaware. I knew that my limbs were being amputated and I was very sad. I couldn’t see my family, but I didn’t really understand the gravity of what was going on. It was far worse than my family. My family were watching me being just butchered, but that’s how it felt to them. They were like every day we were going in and you were missing more things, and it was very difficult for them. Look back on it, it wasn’t an amazing time then, but now, down the line, it wasn’t an amazing time. So I really shouldn’t be here. So the fact that they were doing everything in their care to try and give me a chance of life, I wasn’t out of the woods of the chance of passing away until early January. So I had four, five, six, about eight weeks of really being touch and go.

Jellis Vaes
Do you today know now, like so many years later, a bit more about why your immune system didn’t respond to the bacteria? Do they know anything more?

Alex Lewis
No, we have no idea. We’ve taken part in lots of studies, DNA studies, genealogy studies, all the things that we could try and find out. Was it passed down from a parent? Was it my grandparent? There is no accurate way of knowing why, at that particular time, my immune system didn’t want to fight. Now, I assumed it would have been my alcohol content, the intake, but even that was discounted because my internal organs were functioning at 100%, so I had full liver function, my kidneys were fine, so I hadn’t actually done any damage that could have made my system weakened, which is a miracle, really, for what I drank. And, yeah, to this day, we’re none the wiser as to why, a, that I survived it, and B, my immune system just wouldn’t, and still doesn’t fight the strip. Now, I’ve had it a few times since, and every time now that we’re aware of the situation, if I get the slightest runny nose, then I’m straight into my doctors on antibiotics and I’m treated immediately and it clears up and it goes away. So if it’s caught in time, it’s manageable in hindsight. I remember my doctor coming to see me in hospital, who was my local doctor, my GP, and he came to see me and he was my man. So sorry. And I said, if I had come to you before all this happened, with a runny nose and a sore throat, would you have done anything different? Would you treat me or given me anything? And he went, well, no, because it’s cold and flu season and with respect, your alcohol was out of control. There’s nothing we could have given you that would do anything in your system. So even if you come to me, I wouldn’t have given you any drugs because I don’t think it would have worked. And I certainly wouldn’t have diagnosed Strep a he said, under no circumstance would. I thought at that point that you had strep. So we were kind of vindicated that we didn’t go and see the doctor in a way, because we had this kind of two or three months before I saw him, of thinking, what if we’d done this and what if we’d done that? Would I be here now? When he came, it was quite it made us all feel a bit more at ease in the situation, that there was nothing we could have done. It is what it is and let’s try and move on.

Jellis Vaes
I want to share a photo of you when you were back in the hospital, if that’s fine from you.

Alex Lewis
Yeah, of course. Yeah, absolutely.

Jellis Vaes
So I’m just going to share my screen here. You can see this photo, right?

Alex Lewis
Yeah.

Jellis Vaes
Can you tell us how many weeks or months or how long were you in the hospital here? Because you still had your right arm?

Alex Lewis
Yeah. So that was about April 2014. And it was the first time we were approached by a local newspaper that had heard through a friend or a friend about what happened, about the odds of me surviving this guy and he’s lost all his limbs. It was a big story. And I remember my surgeon come to see me and she said, look, we’ve been contacted by this newspaper. Are you happy for them to photograph you in your condition? And I said, yeah. I said, I’m not trusting. Are you sure? Because visually it’s quite impactful sure. And I said, look, if my family are happy, then I’m happy. And Lucy was fine with it. And the photographer came in and he took some photos. So that photo went out in a newspaper in April, I think it was 2014. And then that kind of kick started the journey to where I am now.

Jellis Vaes
Okay.

Alex Lewis
In terms of getting the word out of what happened, that mentally I was absolutely fine with it, that I was coping. Yeah. I was just happy to be alive. Really happy to be alive.

Jellis Vaes
If you see this photo right now, seeing yourself, like, staring at you now back so many years ago, what is like, the first thing that kind of goes through your mind seeing yourself?

Alex Lewis
I remember how much pain I was in, and that raises the hairs on the back of my neck. Just thinking back to that point, I remember it evokes memories of the hospital probably more than the pain, because the care and treatment that I received in Winchester and Salisbury was just it was life altering. It sounds a bit weird when you’re when they’re amputating and they’re doing all these things to you, but I just saw something so incredible, and it was in my mind. I’m like, how is. This free at the point of entry. How am I getting all this for nothing? And I couldn’t get my head around it. And in that time, my plastic surgeon had become my listener, my mentor. She was just a beautiful person inside now, and her and I created this we kind of built this amazing bond, which I’m sure is quite common with surgeons that do amazing work like she does. And yeah, I remember the nights that she would sit by my bedside and we’d talk about everything. About my future, about my past, about surgeries and about everything that I could go and do and what the military, what the injured lads are doing, and that there’s a life outside the unit out there waiting for me if I want it. Everything was positive and I think so I look at that picture and I think, wow, I’m lucky to be alive. And the guy in that hostel bed there couldn’t have imagined the guy that I am now, not in a million years would I think I would be who I am now. When I was in that position, do.

Jellis Vaes
You still remember what was going through your mind right there at that day or during that photo?

Alex Lewis
Yeah. So right then I’m thinking, this must be really weird for the photographer. And I was asking him questions, have you ever seen a person like me? And stuff like that. And then when I was in hospital, my room was always one of laughter and joy. I always had people come and see me every day. I know one time there was like, 14 people in my room and the room was tiny and it was just like a social it was like being out every night. It was amazing. And the healthcare assistants were great, the nurses were great. My surgeon was just a goddess. Yeah, it was the most amazing I think it was seven months initially. And then I blessed my poor old right arm, I think about six months no, two months later. I think two and a half months later, that was to be amputated. What we didn’t know then is that I had strep in my bone in my right arm and it was being weakened all the time. We had no way of knowing. And I rolled over in bed in July and I broke my arm feed in half.

Jellis Vaes
You broke it?

Alex Lewis
Yeah. So just where the end of that wrist race ends, I broke my wait, so here, right? Yeah, just below that, it just snapped clean enough, which was, again, it was just so incredibly fortuitous because I remember going back in to see my plastic surgeon. I was rushed back into an E immediately, I couldn’t feel the arm. That was the weird thing. I was looking at my arm with my hand by my elbow and I’m thinking, I can’t feel that. That’s the weirdest thing ever. And I was rushed back into Sultry and I met with my plastics team, and they were really I could see tears in their eyes, and I couldn’t quite understand the severity of what was going on. And it was quickly put in a cast, and I was having tests and swabs being sent off everywhere. And I remember my plastic surgeon coming in saying at the end of that day, she came in and said, look, we’ve got two options. We can try and say that, we could try and pin it, but it means you’ve got two years of looking at something that may never, ever work again, and it’ll stop your rehab. You won’t be able to play on the floor your son. You won’t be able to do anything. You’ll just be at home for two years looking at something that may or may not work, or we can amputate. And I immediately said, amputate. I wasn’t willing to hold up my life anymore. I wanted to move on and get on together. And she said, look, well, you can’t make that call on your own. Go and discuss it with Lucy. So I went back to went back home. I said to Lucy, what’s happening? And she’s like, I agree. Let’s amputate. A few days later, I’m back in Salisbury, and I just had my arm amputated, and it was touching go as to whether I’d keep my elbow joint. So we were quite worried about that. So when I woke up and I saw my right arm missing, I could see my elbow joint. So I was overjoyed immediately that I still hit because I knew that I could get a prosthetic. I knew that I’d be able to work with that. And then my surgeon comes in and she goes, we’ve had all your results back from the swabs. And I was like, okay. And she goes, well, we knew that it could be strep in the bone anyway. It’s now been confirmed. But what we didn’t tell you at that point is that if you hadn’t broken your arm, the strep would have worked its way up past your elbow, okay? And the likelihood is that you might not have even been aware of it until it was too late, and you might have lost your entire arm to your shoulder.

Jellis Vaes
Wow.

Alex Lewis
And she goes, if you left it another week or so, the chances are the strep would have got to your heart, and it would have killed you, and you would have known nothing about it. So I was like, oh, my gosh, how lucky was that? So I broke it to find the strep in there, and then I am amputated. I was so lucky. And I think that was, like, the turning point for all of us. It was like, right, life is for living now. We’re going to do everything and anything that comes our way, and we’re just going to enjoy it and do it and never look back.

Jellis Vaes
Damn.

Alex Lewis
So and that’s all, and that’s what we’ve done. It’s been amazing.

Jellis Vaes
I have actually one more photo of you, and I think you might know which one. This is you. 

Alex Lewis
That’s me.

Jellis Vaes
Yeah, with all your limbs. Where was this photo taken?

Alex Lewis
That was at the back of our pub in the countryside. And I built that barbecue, and then there’s lots of little seating pods out the back through those windows, so I would cook on the barbecue some nights for customers. And that was my little area at the back. Yeah, that’s the old me. The fact that it’s dark would mean that I’m probably drunk in that photo. Honesty.

Jellis Vaes
What is, like, the first thing that goes through your mind, like, seeing this photo and seeing yourself back then with limbs?

Alex Lewis
The guy with limbs, I just see it was a waste of I was wasting myself. I wasn’t utilizing myself as much as I should have been, and I have a lot of regret. So, yeah, I look at that that guy, and I think, man, you just weren’t doing anything. Where was your head at? Yeah, I could not be further away from that guy. Now.

Jellis Vaes
Like, I know this is a hypothetical question, but, like, if you could have a chat with yourself, like, today, you know, with that person back then, would there be something that you would say to him that, you know, could help you back then, like, enormously?

Alex Lewis
I think you’d sort of pose the question and say, look, what would you do if you had all your legs and arms have to take you tomorrow? What would you do? And that guy would say, probably, well, I wouldn’t do anything. I’d rather die. Or I’d rather not. Rather not survive. That was the guy then. And I think you don’t know how much fight you’ve got within you until you’re put into impossible situations. Very true. And I wish I knew that I had that in me then, that I had a strength of character that I never knew I had, that I had a will to survive and then ultimately succeed that I didn’t know I had. Yeah, I just see a waste of the body and a brain there. But again, that guy attracted Lucy, and that guy created Sam. So he wasn’t all bad.

Jellis Vaes
You’re right. Exactly. It certainly wasn’t right. No, and he is you right. I mean, you’re a part of like he is you. You’re just a different version of him. But definitely was not all bad at all. No.

Alex Lewis
It’s the same brain. I was told really early on with amputation that 95% is mental and 5% is physical.

Jellis Vaes
Yeah.

Alex Lewis
And I’ve always whenever I’m whenever I feel a bit lower, I’m struggling to come to turn something, I always remember that it’s the mind controlling the body. Get your mind straight and the rest will follow. So, yeah, I’ve learned a lot about myself, I think, last nine years, because.

Jellis Vaes
I’m sure that people listening right now must have wondered at least a few times, just how did you do this? How did you continue fighting? And I know that from the interviews that I watched from you, that it was your son Sam. Yeah, but what I’m curious about is, when did you decide that you had to fight for your son, that you had to continue, and that you didn’t want it to be a victim? Do you remember the moment that this spark of fire ignited? Or did it gradually build or how.

Alex Lewis
It was right at the beginning? So when I think I arrived in Salisbury, end of November, maybe just for the end of November, and I remember getting to Christmas Eve, and I hadn’t seen my son at all in that period because it was too much, too much going on. Too much for me, too much for him. And my surgeries were constant to that point. And I remember having surgery Christmas Eve. And then they said, right, that’s it for a few days. You’re going to just be recovering now. Lucy came to see me, and I said, Christmas Day tomorrow. I just want to see Sam. All I want to see I don’t want presents. I don’t know what happened. I just want to see my son. And he goes, okay, I’ll bring him in. So Christmas Day comes, and I wake up in the morning, and I was just I realized what the day was, and I was so excited. I was unbelievable. I couldn’t wait to see him. And I remember I could see the double doors as a unit, and they were like porthole windows at the top. So I remember seeing Lucy through the porthole, and then Mike Simon builds even more. And as she walks through the door, behind her walks my little boy. And I was sort of craning up to see if he could see me. And he started looking around at all the machines and just wandering around. And when he got closer and he looked and he could see me, he hid behind Lucy’s legs. And when I saw his face, remember the look in his eyes, it’s heartbreaking, but my heart just shattered. He looked at me like I was completely unrecognizable, which I probably was. And I just saw fear and sadness in his eyes. And that made me feel terrible, absolutely terrible. And Lucy tried to get him to sit on the bed and give me color. We wouldn’t do it. And I remember we were smiling and trying to get through it. But when Lucy took him home, I just bombed. I mean, my mind just dropped, and I couldn’t see the point of it all. How was I going to get him back? How was I going to be? When I started thinking about Sam, I started thinking about Lucy, and I started thinking about my family and then my friends and then a job.

And it all kind of built and built and built, and my mind just got heavier and heavier with the lady that I think anyway, the nurse that was working that afternoon as a shift changed, and a new nurse came on, and she came over to me. She could see that I’ve been crying. And she said, are you okay? And I said, no, my son came in. He still want to just it was heartbreaking. And I explained what gone on, and the healthcare assistants are great, and they would sit on my bed and they chat, but they couldn’t get me out of this kind of downward spiral I was on. And the nurse goes away, and she called Lucy, and she said, lucy, Alex is so upset. Seeing Sam, it was a big thing today. It didn’t go as he planned. He totally understands why Sam reacted like that, but he couldn’t understand just how heartbreaking it’s going to be. And she said, is there anything else in his life that he loves as much as his son? And she said, the only thing he loves as much as me and Sam is his Labrador, Holly.

And the nurse said, look, I’m a huge dog fan. I’ve got six dogs. Bring Holly in tonight. Don’t tell anyone. Just bring the Labrador in. So I didn’t know all this was being cooked up behind my back. And that night, about 10:00, I remember seeing Lucy through the poor hole, grask, and I was scratching my thinking, why she come back? And she opened the door, and in burst my labrador, my labrador, and burst in and just ran around all the beds and just went around the whole unit, and the nurses foster and the doctors foster, and all the patients that could move were patterned on the edge, and she’d jump up on the bed. And it was just the most incredibly joyous moment, I think. All of us in that unit that night, Christmas, honestly, we were all some of us were still on life support. I was on dialysis. Other patients were on dialysis. We were all going through it, but that unbridled joy of the dog lifted all our spirits, and then all of us were kind of just lifted, I guess. And she stayed for about 15 minutes, not very long, but when Lucy took her home, I think for the first time, we were all talking to each other or trying to talk to each other.

That moment with my Labrador, for me, it was life altering, because it made me realize that there was much more out there to fight for and it was worth doing. And I think she wouldn’t have been able to explain that in words, but that Labrador was unconditional love, and she still recognized me and still knew that I was a dad, and it was great. And a week later, when I left that unit, I was the only one to survive out of that group of people that my lab saw that night. To think that in those last few days and hours, that lab was a piece of joy for them. It just instilled a bit of a fight, I think, to make me think, right, you got out of that. You’ve survived it. You know your Labrador still loves you, and you know that your son will come round and you, you know, we’ll make this work. And it was then, from that point on, there was never, there was probably four or five bad days from that moment in nine years, which is incredible, really. And I just never stopped thinking that I could get through it, not once. And I don’t think since that moment, I’ve never been back to where I was when I saw my son’s face. I’ve never been that low again. And I think that if I can avoid that level, then I’m doing all right. My head is well above water now and it’s been getting better and better since. But, yeah, seeing my son and seeing my Labrador and my lab, bless her, she passed away in lockdown, and she was at eleven. Amazing years of that dog.

Jellis Vaes
She was eleven years or how old?

Alex Lewis
Yes. And then when she died, I realized she probably had it the worst out of all of us. Because when I got home, I couldn’t walk her. I had nowhere to put no league on and taking her out. And as she got older, I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t really do anything for the dog, if you know what I mean. And I think that was probably really hard for that lad. And when she passed away, it was joke, it was heartbreaking, but she did, she changed all our lives in that 15 minutes. Felt that she had an ICU unit. So I have a lot to thank that dog for.

Jellis Vaes
Dogs are amazing, or animals in general. Right.

Alex Lewis
But dogs, yeah, you see the therapy that they offer, and whether it’s physical or mental, I’ve always had dogs. And I remember when my Labrador passed away, I said to my other half, and I said, Sam, I said, there’s no way I’m willing to live without a dog that isn’t me. I’m a dog person. So now I have a little Jack Russell, a more sensible sized dog, and we have a cat, and yeah, I mean, the joy that those pets bring and the difficulties and the trouble and all the aggravation, it’s so much fun. My lap, bless her, she was life changing.

Jellis Vaes
Wow. For more than just one person, right? For more than just only you. That’s just so amazing.

Alex Lewis
Yeah, exactly. And I think that nurse to do that, knowing the amount of trouble she could have got into doing that, and it was Christmas Day, and it was just so amazing. I knew I had the best health care, I knew I was getting the best treatment, but that just took it to the next level for me, and I’ve regaled that story about 7 million times, and I’ll never, ever forget what she did.

Jellis Vaes
I read somewhere that you also really liked the book men’s Search for Meaning by Victor Franklin, and it truly is an incredible book. I’ve also read it a few times. It’s just amazing. Do you recall out of the book what spoke the most to you?

Alex Lewis
Yeah, absolutely. Randomly, I got a check through the post. We set up the ICS trust at that point, and this was probably I think I just started my facial surgery, so that this was late 2014, and a letter came through our door, and Lucy opened it, and there was a check in there, and she read it, and she goes, you got a check here from Coldplay? I said, don’t be ridiculous. We don’t know. She goes, no, there’s a check here from Coldplay. I looked at it, and it was actually a check from Coldplay.

Jellis Vaes
What?

Alex Lewis
And a little note from Chris Martin saying, I’ve heard about what you’re going through. I think it’s amazing how you’re dealing with it, your capacity for it, what you’re doing, how you feel about it. It’s just unbelievable. And he’d read and this story was from that one picture that you showed earlier on that news article, ended up in The New York Times, and that’s where he read it. Wow. And then he searched me out, and he found the trust, and he very kindly donated to it. And in this note, he said, look, I think what you’re going through is incredible, but if there’s one thing I recommend for you is to read man social Media bobby, it’s Frankel. He said, It’s a really hard read, but I think there’ll be a lot in there that you resonate with. And I’m a terrible reader. Shocking. And I thought, well, if Chris might send me to do it, then it must be all right. I remember I downloaded it onto my iPad, and I had all the surgery coming up, so I had loads of time in hospital recovering to read the book. And I remember one night I was reading through it, and once I started, that was it. I was just motor through it. I just found it absolutely fascinating. And it got to the point and it was about three in the morning, and my eyes are drooping. And it wasn’t a quote by Frankel, but it was a quote in the text that said, once you work out the why, you will endure any how. And it was like a lightning bolt moment. And it made me realize that my why is Lucy and Sam. It was Lucy, Sam, and my dog right at the top. They were the why to begin with. And at that point, we were starting to do more with other amputees that were coming into it, and we were helping them, and they were then part of the why. And the how was always going to be my limb difference, my quadruple amputation, how I live with facial disfigurement, how I live with quadruple amputation. And I realized that the why was far outweighing the how by a mile and down the line. The why just got bigger and bigger and bigger, and the how it’s got easier and easier and easier. It’s kind of the scales have gone far. The why has gone up and up and up with the sheer numbers, and the how is just one that’s just day to day living. It’s fine, it’s really cool. And, yeah, I I think that was another another, you know, amazing moment. You know, this guy, you know, someone in the public eye like Chris Mine, would take the time to do that and support and send a note and email and it was just a really weird moment, but amazing for sure. The band had been incredible to me. We still keep in touch and supportive projects. They’re just great guys.

Jellis Vaes
You went to a concert from him?

Alex Lewis
Yeah, we did concert concerts. Amazing. I’m going there on Sunday. I should see them again.

Jellis Vaes
Really?

Alex Lewis
Yeah, we went to the concert and then he invited me to the after party, me and my family. We went to the after party and I had ten minutes chatting with him. He was just a really nice guy and he said, look, if there’s anything you ever need, just email, anything you want, just email. And I’ve never emailed him friendly, because that’s not how we work, but every now and then we send an email saying, look, you just send out a Tweet or Instagram post if we’re looking at a project to raise funds for hospitals or wheelchair projects or stuff that we’re doing for other people. Because those guys at the beginning, coldplay and loads of other people in my community, they really kind of built me up. They built me up financially, that I could afford a good wheelchair, decent arms, decent prosthetics they really put in the groundwork. And I will always owe them just as much as I owe the NHS, just as much as I owe my surgeons. And Jeffrey say my life. So for me now, it’s about I’ll never be able to repay them. I can’t give them money to say thank you, but what I can do is work on projects like the wheelchair factory, affordable prosthetics treatment for Parkinson’s, all the stuff that we’re involved in, all the university research, trying to bring better products onto the market for people like me, people with disabilities. That’s the way that I can give back to them. And obviously the people that unfortunately arrive like me and to give them enough of an idea that there’s an incredible life out there, if you want it, it’s all possible, all deliverable. Just dream up what you want to do and build a right team and you’ll make it happen.

Jellis Vaes
That’s so amazing. All the things that you’re doing. Yeah. Have there actually been any other books or podcast episodes or any words that you read somewhere that you could actually recommend to anyone listening who might be going through a tough time or that also just really helped you?

Alex Lewis
I think one of the fantastic books I read at the start of Lockdown was When Breath Turns to Air turns to Air.

Jellis Vaes
Breath Turns to Air.

Alex Lewis
When Breath Turns Out. I can’t remember the name of the author.

Jellis Vaes
Okay.

Alex Lewis
He was a neurosurgeon, a trainee neurosurgeon in the US. And then he subsequently got cancer, brain cancer, and it’s like a chronicle of what he went through and how he kept fighting to try and be the best neurosurgeon and help people in his condition. And it was just a very heartbreaking and inspiring read at the same time. And I read that. I read how much he did for people in a similar situation, and it made me realize that actually, I’m not doing enough. If you read anything, I feel so inadequate up against that guy. So it has inspired me to do more for others, for other charities. It’s a great, fantastic book, but very emotional, very sad.

Jellis Vaes
For everyone listening. I will put it in the show notes. I will look it up and I’ll put it there.

Alex Lewis
Yeah, it’s an amazing book and he was an amazing man and a legacy for me, I think a legacy is important for people like me. I would not do well having a normal job, working nine to five and living a normal life at the end of that. That just isn’t me. It wasn’t me before I fell ill, but being able to work on different projects and choosing what I do, talk about what happened to me being open. I’m an open book when I talk about what went on because I find the whole thing is fascinating and equally brilliant at the same time, mixed in with some tragedy at the beginning and ups and downs, but ultimately, everything in the last nine years has got me to this point. And right now my life is phenomenal. So there is no regret in the last nine years, whereas there’s loads of regret prior to that. But all these little scenarios and instances just build and they’re like a fuel, they’re like the electricity to an engine, and I store it and it just pushes me on and keeps me going.

Jellis Vaes
This next question that I actually have for you, I didn’t exactly know where to put it in the interview, so I decided to sort of put it a bit here in the middle. So I survived like, a year and a half ago, a sudden cardiac arrest. You know, I was asleep and my heart stopped and my girlfriend actually noticed that I stopped reading. And yeah, she responded just immediately. The paramedics were there just instantly, and I got extremely, extremely lucky. Especially also because I could have ended up with neurological problems because of the lack of oxygen damaging your brain. But none of that happened. Yeah, again, I got really lucky. But I’ve also been dealing for the last 20 years now with a chronic heart disease. So that probably led to this cardiac arrest. Now, whenever I talk about this or share something about it to friends or to just strangers, I notice sometimes and I’m not saying that this is with everyone, but I notice sometimes that some are hesitant to share any of their problems with me because they feel like it’s insignificant to my problems. But when I’m now looking at you, I feel like all my problems are just insignificant compared to all that you’ve endured and went through.

Jellis Vaes
And I know that comparing is not good, and I tell that to everyone who does it. It doesn’t help. But I am wondering, have you noticed this in your life too? Like, that your wife Lucy or your son Sam or any friends or family are more hesitant sometimes to share certain problems? And if you did notice it, what do you say to them and what will you say to anyone listening who might feel this way?

Alex Lewis
I remember so when I just came out of hospital and I was looking terrible and still very unwell, nobody would talk about any of their ailments. We had mates with cancer. We had loads of people going through tough times, but they wouldn’t want to talk to me about it because they’d look at my situation like you like to say. And they were like, oh, my God, we can’t discuss it in front of him. But then after about two years of that, maybe three years, and when they started to see that I was living an incredible life and traveling and just doing some really cool stuff, then we went through a bit of a phase of, like, way going this week. We traveled somewhere. We’re not we’re going to work, sort of thing. We went through that for a bit. And now I’m at a point where everybody will talk about their ailments. They’ll talk about their cold and their flus and their problem. And that was a massive turning point for me because I thought if I can make them feel that comfortable in my presence that they can talk about a common cold and moan about it to me, then I felt amazing.

Alex Lewis
Because I must have got to a point where I was so at peace with myself and they must feel that that they can now talk about their problems. So that maybe that made me feel even better, really. And I remember one guy doing it and he kind of went, oh, my God, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean people need to talk to you about it. I’m like, no, that’s what I want. I want people to tell me what’s wrong with them because they don’t talk about it. The last thing you want. Is them to follow up. If you’ve got a runny nose and it’s November, you haven’t got strep, let’s not over worry the nation. If it gets worse, go and see a doctor. And it was simple stuff like that. But the fact that they were talking about it just made me feel brilliant. All of a sudden, I’ve become that’s just Alex. It’s not that lad that went through a terrible time two years back, we lost all the arms. That’s just him. That’s Alex. And I was at dinner at a mate’s house at the weekend. I met this chat and he was really kind of worried about how he would react to me.

Alex Lewis
And my mate lives on the top of a hill, so getting down to his garden is a nightmare. So I had to get off the wheelchair and shuffle about 200 yards to the bottom of his garden. He makes you do it, get it on purpose, I think, I don’t mind doing it. So I shuffled down to the bottom of the garden and I was just sat on a seat down there and no wheelchair, and this guy turns up, he’s looking at me thinking, how on earth did you get down here? But after a couple of hours, he warmed up. He was great. And then he started talking about all sorts of things. And when I went home that night, my mate sent me a text one day, said, oh, Tony. Tony was really worried about it at the beginning until he realized that you are just normal. And that was that. And I thought, yeah, because I am normal. I’m still a normal, normal man. I’ve still got the same issues and problems as anyone else.

Jellis Vaes
Yeah, true.

Alex Lewis
Normal life is still going to affect me and I know that in my lifetime, I’m going to deal with the loss of family and friends, I’m going to deal with people with cancer, other ailments, I’m going to deal with tragedy. That’s just part of life. And I don’t worry about it and I’m not scared about it. I will cope with it when it comes. You can’t worry about what’s happening down the line, but to try and make people feel at ease in your presence at that moment when people realize that he’s just going to blow and he’s missing a few bits is lovely. I don’t want them to feel that God is disabled and he can’t do this, he can’t do that. I want people to see what I can do, not what I can’t.

Jellis Vaes
Right. It helps a lot that you’re not being a victim, right, for people to just share their problems too. Because if you are always like being the victim, then, yeah, of course you’re going to draw the attention all the time and people will be more hesitant to share anything of their problems, but you are totally anything from that.

Alex Lewis
Yeah. And I think it’s visibility as well. I’m happy to be on social media. I’m happy to be photographed, filmed, whatever. I’m really cool about it. But right at the beginning, when none of this was going on, I remember because my best mate gave off his job in France, he moved in with Lucy and I. So he and I were trying to figure out what life was going to be for me. And I remember he said to me, he said, what do you want to do? And I said, well, as soon as I get home, I want to spend some time, at least in Sam, two days. And I said, then I want to go out. I want to be in a car, I want to go to a shopping center, the supermarket. I want people to see me now because this is as bad as worse is going to be physically and invisibly as well. I want people to see me that I’m not afraid to go out. I’m not worried about them looking, and I kind of sometimes feel a bit guilty about it. So I was putting other people in that position on purpose. But I had to for my own mental health, I had to be out there and being seen and for them to see that I was learning to my wheelchair independently. I was learning to use prosthetics, that I couldn’t navigate my way around the supermarket in a wheelchair with one arm. All these things I had to learn. I could only do that while being out and about in public. And that’s probably one of the best things we ever did, to not shy away from what is the rest of my life. My limbs aren’t going to grow back. And I’m really cool about that. And I know that physically my life down the line is going to get much, much harder. And that’s why I need to cram in as much of the adventurous stuff, whether it’s the cycling or the rowing or whatever it’s going to be. I need to wedge it in now because it’s just life short. You have no one’s around the corner, so don’t put it off.

The IPS Academy
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Jellis Vaes
Your wife, her life also changed just unexpectedly, right when all that happened. And I have a lot of respect for you and how you decided to not be the victim or a victim, but I equally have a lot of respect for your wife. What is something or what are some of the things that you are the most grateful for that she did throughout this whole journey?

Alex Lewis
Lucy, she’s worked in hospitality since she was 16, so she’s worked with the Rude Brothers, Gordon Ramsay. She had a hell of a career before she met me and she was probably one of the first female cooks in that all male environment in the 90s, late 80s, early 90s.

Jellis Vaes
In the bar that you were running.

Alex Lewis
In London and different restaurants. She was top of her game. She was a pastry chef at the very top of her game. And she developed this incredibly thick skin and she’s a very driven woman and I really admired that. I can see she was a strong character and she was amazing. But when I fell ill and when I woke up in Winchester, I remember trying to talk to her because I guess I didn’t really know what the future had, what the following day was going to be for me, really. But I wanted to kind of know that she was on board and by my side. I needed that support. And when I moved to Salza, I remember a friend of ours, a mutual mate, he came in and he said, look, I’m going to have to ask her the question. And I immediately knew what he meant. He said, Look, I’m going to ask you if she wants to stay or go, because she didn’t sign up for this. And I said, I totally agree. I said, I need to know now whether she’s going to be with me on this or not. And I remember my heart in my mouth. He goes away and he goes into the weight room and he answered the question and her reaction was, while I walk away from him, I love him. And then I just let my legs empty. And her next comment was, I didn’t fall in love with his legs. That’s credible. So my mate comes back in giggling and I was like, oh, is it a good answer? He said, Mate, it was brilliant falling off my legs. And then since then, it’s just been, yeah, it’s been her and I and Sam, and it’s been incredible. And she has never wavered. You know, she was she ran the restaurant, she never missed a day of work in all the days that I was in hospital, not one. Didn’t take time, didn’t take time off. Lucy and Sam, we all lived above the pub in the countryside and that business went bust, so that pub shut. And then she couldn’t live at the restaurant, so they had nowhere to live. So my son and Lucy and my Labrador were bouncing around friends houses, family homes. They had nowhere to live for seven months. And she still managed to run the restaurant every day.

And every day. She’d come and see me at Sauce Hospital every single day without fail. She was just relentless in her pursuit to make sure that Sam and the family were stable and that I was stable. And looking back on it, how on earth she managed it, I don’t know. But being in hospitality, you grow an amazing network of people and we all support each other. And I think I didn’t know it at the time that lots of other people were helping with the restaurant, staff were helping out with so much support around us that we probably didn’t even know that we had that much at our disposal, because we never asked for it. We would never say, oh, we need some help. That’s just not who we are. But these guys were just coming on board saying, look, what do you need? We’ll help out. We’ll pick Sam up in preschool, we’ll make sure that the dogs get walked, we’ll make sure that all the fruit and veg is taken in at 05:00 in the morning to the restaurant. All this was covered while I was going through. I was blissfully unaware. It’s only when I came out that I just realized how much of the support that the community gave us.

We couldn’t have done it, we couldn’t have done it without them. And Lucy was just amazing and how she coped with it. And I remember being in Toronto and I was speaking at the conference for Robin Sharma over there. Yeah. So I was closing out the Titan Summit for him as the last speaker on day four, I think, and we were in Toronto, Lucy and I, and the day before my talk, I remember we went to a sushi restaurant and I had to climb upstairs to get there. So I shuffled upstairs and I jumped on a seat and I was signing my sushi and I’d never asked her the question. But when my mother and Lucy were told that the chances of my survival were absolutely minuscule, that Jeff, my mate, said to him that you need to go home tonight and prepare to say your final goodbyes, that he’s not going to make it. In the morning, when you come back in, we’ll wake him mechanically. He won’t be able to hear you, but you’ll be able to say your piece and then we’ll turn off the machine. So that night, my mother and Lucy, I’d never asked my mother about it because I think it made me chuck set.

And I kind of built out the courage, years later, to ask lucy while I was in this Japanese restaurant in Toronto. And I said to her, danny, I’ve never asked you the question, and I feel I’d like to be able to know your answer tomorrow when I go on and close out the summit. But what were you going to say to me when they worked in mechanically as a father? Goodbye. And in my mind, I think I had this kind of idea that it would be this amazing epitaph of how lovely I was and how amazing dad I was. And I was a great partner and all this, and she didn’t even miss a beat. And she was eating her sushi and she said all I could think about was who was going to take out the bins. And the delivery was so deadpan and to the point that I just fell about laughing. I told the story the following day and that’s what’s got us through it. That kind of dark humor. The light aside, she just kept me buoyant all the time. She still does. And she’s gone from that point. When I left Salisbury to have one business, she now has five. And she’s just amazing. Sam and I are very lucky to have a partner like her and a mum like her. She’s an incredible lady.

Jellis Vaes
Yeah, she sounds amazing. She does.

Alex Lewis
She is amazing. She hates the limelight. She can’t stand it. And we just come back from Spain, and we’re in a very tiny little island in the northwest of Spain, and she was recognized by a couple, and the couple came over and started chatting to her and she just absolutely hates it. I’m more than happy to talk to anybody that wants talking about it, but she absolutely hates it. She deserves recognition, I think, for what she did, how she’s been, how she is in general. But for those first few months, all the people in my corner, they deserve recognition for what they did for all of us.

Jellis Vaes
Alex, I just have a few last questions for you. So, on the social media pages of The IPS Project, I also asked what people would ask you, and I had a lot of questions, but there were two that came consistently that I picked out that I just want to ask.

Alex Lewis
Yeah, sure.

Jellis Vaes
So all of us have something physical that we might be a little bit insecure about or that we just might not like. How have you learned to accept what happened to your body and to feel okay with it all?

Alex Lewis
So right at the beginning when we were talking about prosthetics, and I didn’t really know what prosthetics were when I was in Salisbury, so I didn’t really understand. But I started to see guys coming in the unit, the odd prosthetic leg, the odd prosthetic arm, and starting to get a sort of glimpse of what my future could be like. And I remember being told that I would be able to get these legs and these arms on the National Health Service. And unfortunately, when it came down to it, they couldn’t really afford me the level of my amputation. But I remember saying to my remember Lucy saying to my son, daddy’s going to get some legs and arms like that. And my son turned around and said, that is amazing. Daddy’s going to look like a Power Ranger. And he was so kind of naive with happiness that the minute he said that, it was like, I’m really cool with it now. If my son thinks I’m going to look like a Power Ranger, then it’s great. And over the last few years, we’ve worked on different projects with all sorts of equipment. He gets to play with barnic hands and legs and arms and wheelchairs and hand cycles and motorbikes. And he has this amazing array of kit coming through the door all the time, and he’s fascinated by it. And I think from that moment when he said I was going to be a Power Ranger, it just kind of leveled it for me that actually I could look really cool with all this kit on. Not that I’ve ever felt cool, but I feel very content in the equipment that I sit on and I wear. I’ve got to the point where I love being different. I love the fact that I stand out. I think the Alex before had nothing to stand out about, whereas that the Alex now could split a crowd just by how he looks. And for me, that’s an amazing feeling that makes me feel like a rock star when I go out. So, yeah, I think accepting the difference is really mission critical, but it only takes your comment. I can totally agree with my son that why shouldn’t I look like a robot or a Power Ranger? Why shouldn’t I be like a Transformer or Iron Man? There’s no reason why that shouldn’t happen. And I think with kids now, they all revert to the Marvel and the Avengers. So every kid that I see is like, we got a hand like the Baddie in it. I can’t remember his name.

Jellis Vaes
Maybe like the Winter Soldier. Like Marvel. Yeah, there’s quite few people there that you can look like that are really cool.

Alex Lewis
And I keep saying, these kids, I don’t know because they’re about 100,000 pounds, so now I don’t have one. But then that drives me to then work on a project in a university to try and drive that Cost down. So actually, the idea as a Power Ranger has kind of been stealed the work that I do now. And it’s followed me all the way through. And it’s all about making this equipment more personal, more tailored. Why shouldn’t you have whatever you want? It shouldn’t have to be a skin colored plastic arm or a carbon fiber bit of kit. You know, there must be ways in this day and age that we can make it more personal, more in tune. You know, trying to give a 14 year old a cream colored plastic arm with a hook on the end of it, they’re never going to wear it. It looks terrible. But if you gave them something that looked like an Iron Man hand or had the colors of their favorite football team, something really simple, that personalizes it to them, that makes them feel empowered by wearing it, then that makes more people wear the equipment and that gives them more options. And it can only help all of us.

Jellis Vaes
Right. Because the arm, that color, that represents something for them, right? A hero or something. Someone that they look up to and that’s super powerful for yeah, exactly.

Alex Lewis
A lot of the work and the companies that we work with now is all about that. There could be 20 million arm entities in India now, the affordable prosthetics company that we work with. If we’re to get into that market somehow and help these people and give them the right prosthetics, then we need to make sure that we’ve got every single IPL cricket team colors available to them. We need to make sure that we’ve got their favorite cricketers or football teams, whatever it is, it shouldn’t just be the same kit for everyone. It needs to be personal.

Jellis Vaes
You’re right.

Alex Lewis
That builds their confidence. We want people to put on their prosthetics or their equipment, and we allow the door, walk out the door and think, I’m looking good today. I feel happy in my skin, and to me, that’s ultra important.

Jellis Vaes
Yeah, that’s an amazing goal and that’s an amazing thing that you’re working on. I actually have a little I have like an ICD, like a little device here in my chest, but it sticks out of my chest, so you can see that there’s something here. But people also afterwards told me, like, you kind of look like a cyborg, like Iron Man now. And I was like, you know, I like Iron Man. He’s cool. Yeah. And it also represents something more than just a little thing sticking out of my chest now because of that, because I am a little bit like Iron Man now, like you are. And yeah, that just kind of motivates me because I like that character and what he stands for. And that helps a lot.

Alex Lewis
It does, yeah. I mean, we’re very lucky that we live in an age of the on screen, that it’s far more visible to a global audience. But if we don’t build on that, then it’ll slip away. And I think we’ve got a window that’s slowly closing to get these products out there and to give better options for a wider range of disabilities. It’s not just amputation. We’re in the process of setting up a schools competition, and it’ll be global, hopefully the year after next. And it’s all about assistive technology and the design around it. So we want children to work with somebody in their network. So it could be their next door neighbor, it could be their auntie who has a disability and is fed up with a boring walking frame. Maybe she wants something really cool that she can take on a dirt track so she can walk her dog. Maybe there is something in the kitchen that a person with Parkinson simply cannot use. So how do we develop something that they can use? So we want these kids to work with end users to dream up ideas that will help them with their disability versus synopsis. And then all the ideas that we will get, we will then filter into university system here in the UK and then hopefully all over the world, because the brightest minds and the blue sky thinking is with the children. In my son’s eyes, I was going to be a Power Ranger. Now, I’m not a Power Ranger, unfortunately, but in his eyes, it was possible. And any other child looking at somebody else would just be thinking, well, wait a minute, why can’t you be like so and so and then designing a bit of equipment with them? So you’ve got the actual end user working with the child and saying, well, that might work. That’d be really cool if that worked. I’m going to say to my son, why haven’t I got drones as wheels? Why does my wheelchair turn into a drone? There must be a way that we could design a system like that. That the wheelchair. You wouldn’t need wheels, it would just be a drone. And off I went. Would that be exactly that’s what I said to them. I said, dangerous. It’d be wicked fun. And that’s where it starts. I’m running out of ideas for these universities I work with.

They keep coming to you for ideas and it’s like, what can we do next? What can we design? And I struggle to give them new ideas each time. So I’m thinking, stop asking me. Let’s ask the children, because they’re going to come up with some absolutely brilliant ideas and they look at the world in a different way and we need to harness that, I think, early and then develop it and then hopefully we get better products in the marketplace for people with disability. For me, that’s a big project. We’re a huge project, but something that I think could make a real difference to a lot of people, for sure.

Jellis Vaes
And it’s amazing that you’re working on this. The other question that I read a lot of times from people is, and you might have already answered it a little bit, but I’m going to ask it anyway. How do you deal with the constant stares from other people when you’re out? How do you not get annoyed by it? And how do you not feel judged by it? Like, have you developed some kind of technique for it? Or what do you do?

Alex Lewis
It’s never really bothered me because I got out so early. Doors in such a far worse state I’m in now that I don’t think they’re staring at the disability. I think they’re staring at the fact that I’m either on a motorbike or wheeling around a shopping center with no arms or doing stuff that is just like, oh, my God, how is he doing that? I don’t feel like they’re looking at it, thinking, oh, my God, look at him. I always feel that they’re looking at me thinking, wow, that’s amazing, look at that. I always see the positive. I’ve never had any negative reaction to what I’ve been doing. And the stairs at the beginning, you can imagine where I would start. They were constant. I couldn’t go anywhere without being said that I had to get out in front of it and I had to deal with it early because I was never going to look that bad again. So if I cope with it then, now it is water off the duck’s back. So it’s about being visible at your lowest, I think, and it puts you in the most uncomfortable position, but it does give you so much strength when you get back indoors to know that you’ve done it. You feel like you’ve just absolutely smashed something that you would never dreamed you could have done. And I soak that up a bit. It just kind of gets into me and I feel great that now people will come and ask me questions because I am so at peace with what’s going on. I want people to come up to me and say, what happened to you? Or now it’s like, Are you that guy that climbed the mountain, Ethiopian? It’s like, yeah, I am. Are you the guy that went across the Migraine on a village scooter? Yes, I am. Stuff like that is great. And for me, the adults will stare and the kids will come and ask questions. And in my mind, it’s getting the adults to say to the kids, he’s going to ask him, don’t stare at him, go and ask him. The adults need to be confident enough to say, right, okay, so he’s in a wheelchair, I wonder what happened? And not to say to their child, no, don’t spare move on and say, well, don’t ask them what went on. That just builds understanding them. That’s all we can do now. For me, if anyone’s listening and they see me in the street, just ask me the question. Don’t stare. Come and find out what went on. I think a lot of us in these predicaments are very happy to talk about it. It’s just that people won’t ask the question. Yeah.

Jellis Vaes
Because they’re afraid maybe to insult the person by asking about it.

Alex Lewis
I come at it. I have 33 years in a perfectly working, normal body, and I’ve had nine in the most in the strangest bodies. And obviously people have been born with disabilities they don’t know any different. And I can imagine that over time, the frustration can only build because there is no other glimpse of what life was like before it. Whereas I can always compare with my old life and keep pushing against that to not fall back into who that guy was. So I’m very fortunate that I have that, that I can compare and contrast in what I’m doing now to what I was doing, how I would react then to a person like me. I don’t want to be that guy. I would never have asked someone in my condition what happened to you? Loads. People assume I’ve been blown up in Afghanistan. I haven’t, I just caught a cold. And when people ask and I say that to them, they’re like, Again, you caught a cold, and that’s all it was. It’s so innocuous to end up like that. And then they ask, what do you do? And the story just grows and they hear more. And then all of a sudden, they’ll go home and tell someone that they met this guy in a shopping center and he did this and just build that greater understanding that he was wheeling around one arm. I’ve never seen anyone do that. Well, you can do it. If I’m doing it, and I’m not an athlete, by any stretch of the imagination, all this stuff is possible. But I think the only bugbear thing has been judged by people with arms and legs as to what equipment I need. That drives me nuts. How does somebody with arms and legs know what I need if they haven’t wheeled a mile in my wheelchair?

Jellis Vaes
They suggest what you would need as equipment.

Alex Lewis
Yeah, okay, that can be a bit of a bug there. But again, that’s just they don’t know because they haven’t asked, they don’t know situation. So a lot of the work we do is we do a lot of work with the National Health Service and Rehabilitation about a greater understanding of the person’s familial situation, their home life. I’ve been in situations with other people that they live on the fifth floor of a council block of flats with no lift and they’re being given prosthetic legs and they can barely walk. Well, they’re not going to climb five flights of stairs. That’s completely ridiculous. So the equipment they’re not being given the right equipment for their situation. They’re being given the right equipment by somebody who legs an arm, saying, well, because you lost your legs, you need to walk, they were going to give you legs. But that might not be the best answer for me. It’s about the best answer for that person’s situation. I think there needs to be a different way of thinking on that, but that can only start with conversations and talking about it.

Jellis Vaes
You’re right.

Alex Lewis
Yeah.

Jellis Vaes
Alex, we started this interview by talking about your most recent adventure that you came back from and about a few. Other ones. Right. I also want to end this interview by just asking what was your actual first adventure or adventures thing that you embarked on?

Alex Lewis
So the first thing was skydiving. Skydiving, which I would never have done when I had legs and arms. And I did that and I absolutely loved it, but it was obviously very short. It’s like a couple of minutes, really, few hours a day, but fell in love with it. But I guess the first real adventure was kayaking around the southern tip of Greenland. So I went out with a little charity called The Pilgrim Bandits back in 2016, I think, and we flew to Iceland, had a couple of days in Reckywick, and then went on to the southern tip of Greenland and we rough camped while we kayaked for eleven days around the southern tip. And it was just unbelievable. And it was something that it was the first time I was able to repay my best friend, who’d given up so much for living with Lucy and I for that six months. He came with me on the trip, so he was out there with me. We were both kayaking around the southern Greenland, something we’ve never done as mates prior to falling ill, and it was physically demanding. Mentally, it was uplifting and I had ten days with an amazing group of people and that was the kind of the first one that really got me thinking, this is my life now. I want to do more of this. The skydive was like a little apparatus and then now the main course was that Greenland trip. We were tracked by whale.

Jellis Vaes
Wow.

Alex Lewis
The nature was incredible. The icebergs and the glaciers. I was just amazing. Absolutely amazing. The ice cap, fantastic. It was unbelievable. And again, I was the first quadruple and petite to probably ever set foot in the southern tip of Greenland. The stairs there, they were brilliant. I mean, they just didn’t stop looking. I could have been sat in front of someone for an hour and they wouldn’t move, they just look at me. And then they saw me getting a kayak and it was like, what on earth is you doing? I just bought arms on and I was attached to the paddle and it was just brilliant. But so much work went into it, designing arms that would suit the kayak, how we would weight it. And I remember the first day we got into the kayak, we started to paddle and after about 3 hours we stopped and I got out and we were going to camp there on this little island that night, and they unzipped my dry suit and this plume of condensation came out. The next thing I know, I’ve been stripped naked and changed by all these lads and I was like, what on earth’s going on here? And they said, you don’t understand. Two or three minutes of you in this situation, you would have got hypothermia and I’ve got no way of regulating my temperature, so I don’t really know how cold it is. And I’m always hot. So even when it’s like minus five outside, I am still in a T shirt and I’m still hot.

Jellis Vaes
Really.

Alex Lewis
They’re over in Greenland, I couldn’t feel the cold, so they said, look, this could be a real issue because you can’t spend ten days doing that and being stripped every time we stop for a break. And I said, well, what are the options? I said, I’ve only got that one dry suit and I’ve got nothing else. And they said, well, either you do it in a dry suit or you do it in a shorts and T shirt and you keep the temperature as level as best you can. And then the guys the problem with that is that in a dry suit, if you overturn in the kayak, we’ve got about seven minutes to get you out the water and get you to land and change before you get hyperthermia. I said, okay, that’s good. I said, what about shorts and T shirt? And they said, well, if you go in the water now, it’s shorts and T shirt, you’ve got about two minutes to get out and get changed. And the guy said, we got nowhere doing that. Our group is so spread out and we’re miles from anywhere. He said, the odds of one of the kayaks or other kayaks getting to you, getting you out of the water and then trying to change you, he said, It’s never going to work. And I said, Well, I’m not willing to not do the trip. And he said, well, it’s up to you. So the following day, I just went out on my shorts and T shirt and I kayaks around the southern tip, blissfully unaware of the danger, amazing and absolutely loving life. In hindsight, that was absolutely psychotic and if I had, I would have been in real trouble. But it was groundbreaking from an event and for me and my best mate, we’ve been out to Africa now, just come back from Namibia, Ethiopia, more countries to see more adventurous stuff to do. Then next year I’m going to row the southern tip of England. So I’m going to go from the furthest west on the coast to the furthest east. That’s 370 miles in an adaptive row and load. And then I’m going to cycle 600 miles back to the west coast of England.

Jellis Vaes
Wow.

Alex Lewis
So about 1000 miles, we think. And then that’s my training for then hopefully tackling the Talisman Whiskey race for our row across from the canaries to Antigua. So, 3000 miles, what that’s the ultimate for me, that’s the goal, to be able to get to Antigua and say I’m the first quadruple antique to ever row an ocean. That’d be pretty cool.

Jellis Vaes
So the the goal is next year to to kayak, right?

Alex Lewis
From next yeah, next year to row the south coast of England and that’s how I train. Yeah.

Jellis Vaes
How many years will you train?

Alex Lewis
More?

Jellis Vaes
Or is just that year and then you will do it like in 2000?

Alex Lewis
Yeah, hopefully we do it in 24 or 25, one or the other. I think I’d struggle after that, but the training means flat out from about next week, I think, to train for that, it’d be good.

Jellis Vaes
Yeah. Well, I’ll definitely be following this adventure together with you. I’m missed by who you are and just your mindset and all the things that you’re doing and I’m just so grateful that you took the time here to talk about your journey.

Alex Lewis
Sorry I was late on the show, but thanks.

Jellis Vaes
Don’t worry. I was too excited about this interview so I waited another hour, but it is totally okay.

Alex Lewis
Thank you. Thank you very much.

Jellis Vaes
Alex, there is one final end question that I ask all my guests that I would love asking you as well. But before I ask that question, what is the best place for listeners to check out your projects, any upcoming adventures or any of the past ones that you did? What are the best places for listeners to check out?

Alex Lewis
You best place is probably Instagram and that’s the Alex Trust. I’m on there. And then head to the website www.alex-lewis.co.uk. And then there’s lots of things in the pipeline, so there’s a new foundation, there’s the Assisted Technology Competition of Schools. There’s the row across the south of England, cycle across south of England and then training for the row across the Atlantic. There’s loads more to do, which we haven’t updated yet, but we’ll update the website as and when. But yeah, keep an eye out. I mean, there’s I’ve also got the 500 kilometer Lemon event in a few weeks time. The information on that as well. Yeah. I live an amazing life. I’m a lucky guy.

Jellis Vaes
For everyone listening, you can find those links in the show notes. Alex, the last question that I have for you, and this can be as short or as long as you want, you can take your time with it. From everything that you have seen, experienced lifts and learn in your life, what is the one thing you know to be true?

Alex Lewis
Sounds quite corny, but love does conquer all. And without the love of Lucy and Sam, this conversation wouldn’t be happening. They’re my constant and they’re everything in my world. They are my world and I do all the stuff that I do. Not for Lucy because she thinks most of this ridiculous, but for Sam to see that at no point did one tragedy or the disability ever get in the way of me having a good time and doing some really cool stuff and helping some amazing charities. So I think as long as he sees that, then I just keep doing what I’m doing. So it all stems from love.

Jellis Vaes
Amazing. Alex, thanks again for doing his interview.

Alex Lewis
Pleasure. Thank you much.

Jellis Vaes
And that concludes yet another episode here on The IPS Podcast. I truly hope you enjoyed this interview with Alex Lewis and that you gained something valuable from it. Now to find the things Alex mentioned, such as book recommendations, ways to connect, and more info about the adventures and projects he has done and is working on, check out the show notes found in the description of this episode. You can also go directly to ipsproject.blog and search for Alex Lewis with that. I wish you a lovely day out there, and I hope I get to welcome you again soon on another episode here on The IPS Podcast. This is your host, Jellis Vaes, signing off.

The IPS Academy
Before you take off, if you already feel like you’ve gained many lessons and insights from this episode and you want to continue your journey of personal growth, be sure to take a look at The IPS Academy, where we offer in depth, quality and fun online courses from experts that have appeared here on the podcast. Learn from a two time world record holder how to master goal setting and confidence. Learn from a certified stress educator how to manage your stress and live a more balanced life. Learn from a therapist how to heal past wounds. And learn from a neuroscientist to master your mindset. These are but some of the course topics you can find at The IPS Academy. Each course we offer is made with fun animations and stunning illustrations. There are also a few lessons to try for free so you can get a taste of what the course is like. We have countless reviews from other students so you can see what others think. And last but not least, there is a 30 day money back guarantee if you end up not liking the course. If any of this sounds interesting to you, you can check out our courses by going to TheIPSProject.com/academy or by clicking on the link in the description of this episode.

If you feel that you’ve gained some insights and lessons from this interview, and you are curious to see what else we offer at The IPS Project, check out The IPS Academy, where we offer online courses taught by guests here on The IPS Podcast.

Learn more about essential life topics, such as mental health, relationships, the mind, and the body and the brain, through fun and interactive courses. Simply go to TheIPSProject.com/academy.

What is also interesting to note is that all the courses are quite affordable, as we at The IPS Project do not want money to stand in the way of bettering one’s life. Each course has a few lessons to try for free, so you get a taste of what the course is like.

We have countless reviews from other students so you can see what others think, and there is a 30-day money-back guarantee if you end up not liking the course. Again, check them out at TheIPSProject.com/academy.

How to Find Your Way Out of Hell

Alex Lewis

Quadruple Amputee

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