Rob Franks said a cheery goodbye to his wife and sons and set off walking down the hospital corridor towards the operating theatre. Laughing with the nurses and even sharing a joke with his surgeon – they had been rugby rivals in the past - he was in remarkably good spirits.
"I felt really chilled," says Franks, a 42-year-old cricket coach who lives with primary teacher wife Carla, 38, stepson Ollie, 15, and son Harry, 10, in Poole, Dorset.
"A few nerves had kicked in days earlier, when people said they thought I was mad. They said I’d regret it. But I knew it was the right decision."
It’s understandable why some of Franks’ loved ones were concerned. This was no minor operation.
The sport-loving father-of two was about to have his left leg amputated just above the knee. Astonishingly, he says it’s the best decision he ever made.
Franks' story starts in 2011 when he was playing his beloved cricket. He slid for a ball and hurt his knee.
"I didn’t think much about it, but after a few days it was still hurting so Carla said I should see the doctor," he says. "I was sent for an X-ray and was told I’d get my results in seven days. But within 24 hours I’d had a call from the doctor.
"I had an aggressive tumour in my femur, but surgeons were confident they could remove it without much problem. I’m quite a positive person and although it was a total shock, because I was only 31 at the time, I went into surgery feeling that everything would be alright – and for a year after the surgery, it was."
But when his knee started aching again, Franks says he had to beg for more scans.
"The hospital kept refusing and it got to the point where I said, 'I’m not moving from here until you scan it'. They doctor said I was wasting their time, but once I’d had my knee scanned, he came out looking white as a sheet and told me I had another tumour."
Franks had another operation to remove the tumour but woke unable to feel his leg. The surgeons admitted they had cut a nerve – there had been a 5% risk of this occurring – and he was put in a leg brace.
But determined that his career would not be over, Franks underwent extensive physio and was able to play cricket again - this time, for a team with disabled players. However, his first match turned into a horror show.
"On the fourth ball I struck, I heard a loud snap," says Franks. "I had no idea what it was and I thought it might be the sound of the ball. I looked down and my leg had snapped in two and was jutting out to the right. That’s when the pain kicked in and I started screaming.
"My little boy Harry and my wife were both there and saw it all. Poor Harry was traumatised for a long time afterwards, which for me, was the most horrendous thing about it all."
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Franks was taken by ambulance to hospital and put in traction. Doctors told him he would be in the wards for six months but he defied medical odds and was out in a matter of days. However, his leg was causing agony.
"I couldn’t work or sleep or do anything really and there were some pretty dark days where I thought my sports days and my career might be over," he admits.
"I was taking 28 painkillers a day but the fracture had never healed and the pain was so bad that I decided I’d rather live without the leg.
"Carla supported me all the way. She knew that I was so frustrated and wanted to get on with my life.’
The amputation took place in 2018 and Franks has never looked back.
"When I woke up, I was in intensive care because I’d bled so much during the four-hour operation but I felt as though a massive weight had been lifted," he says.
"I wasn’t emotional about losing the leg. This had stopped me enjoying time with my young son and all he’d ever known was me being disabled. It was time to get on with my life."
Franks now has a prosthetic but is trying to raise £8,500 through a Go Fund Me page to buy a special leg which can enable him to enjoy sport.
"The NHS have been brilliant but they don’t have the funds to provide me with this special leg and the first time I played cricket with my current leg I fell over about 15 times," he says.
"I’d love to be able to run, not only in cricket, but after my son. We’ve missed so much time together and I don’t want to miss any more."
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