Meet the patients: Sheilagh Easter

Sheilagh EasterWhen hairdresser Sheilagh Easter’s arthritis became so severe she could no longer hold a hairdryer, she feared her snipping days were over.

The crippling pain left her with no choice but to stop cutting hair – leaving her unable even to give her grandchildren their regular trims.

Sheilagh, from Winchester, suffered with arthritis in her wrist for several years, but is now free of pain after becoming the first person in Southampton to have a new technique for replacing wrist joints.

The 73-year-old said: “I used to wear a support brace on my wrist, but I was in so much pain and there was so much I couldn’t do. Simple things like carrying shopping and opening doors became difficult, and I couldn’t even hold my grandson when he was born.

“I have five local grandchildren, aged 18 months to eight years, and I used to cut their hair, but I had to stop all of that.”

One day, after an acupuncture session, Sheilagh’s wrist swelled so badly that she ended up at Winchester’s emergency department, where she was diagnosed with septic arthritis.

She was then referred to David Warwick, consultant hand surgeon at Southampton General Hospital.

Mr Warwick was about to begin using a new technique for patients with severe arthritis of the wrist, and Sheilagh became the first person to undergo the surgery in Southampton.

The wrist contains several separate joints that are rarely all affected by arthritis, but surgeons have previously only been able to repair one joint by tightening them all under a rigid titanium plate – removing pain, but restricting hand movement.

The new procedure uses thin wire and special metal screws to repair only the damaged joints of people with problems caused by rheumatoid arthritis, wear and tear or a previous injury.

Mr Warwick said: “In Southampton, we are using the most modern and advanced techniques to improve the lives of our patients.

“We are now able to carefully select which joints need to be fused and not cover the wrist fully with a strong plate, so arthritis sufferers no longer have to worry about losing function in their wrists after surgery.”

Sheilagh is delighted with the results. She said: “I am now totally free from pain. I spent around six weeks in plaster but, once that was off, the recovery was almost immediate.

“I do treat it with respect and am careful not to overdo it, but now I can cut the children’s hair again and help look after our donkeys, cockerel and Molly, our rottweiler."

First published in Connect issue 26.