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History Bones: David’s Story

  • Posted on Jul 5, 2018

David Burke’s Story

Growing Up

Born in 1934, I was the youngest of eight children. As my mother had brittle bones herself, it was passed on to several of her children including me, my brother Maurice, and sisters Jane and Patricia.

Consequently, I was frequently in plaster along with my siblings, seemingly holding a season ticket to Cheltenham General Hospital. The orthopaedic specialist, Mr. Robinson, would seize on us with delight and announce to any hapless student doctor or nurse, “Now! What can you see in the eyes here?”

The students would carefully examine our eyes, most without a clue as to what they were supposed to find, but the more diligent would observe “blue sclera”, whereupon the specialist would trawl the hospital to see if he could find any more learners to come and look at the Burke family.

When we required less urgent medical attention, we would visit the local surgery on Libertus Road – a visit which would cost us a half-crown (12.5p), which with inflation would be equivalent to about £5.20 today. My doctor would often have to make judgement calls based on my symptoms, as my condition was not well-known enough to have set guidelines. I was due to start swimming lessons with my classmates at the Boys’ Grammar School, but Dr Lawson felt the risk of falling on the concrete floors surrounding the pool was too great. I didn’t learn to swim until my mid-twenties, but after that, it remained a favourite pastime until I reached my eighties.

So, we return to school, where I was excused from games due to my brittle bones. This meant that I could go and admire the huge steam trains with their cream and brown carriages at St. James Station next to the school. St. James was opposite St. Gregory’s Church and was the terminus of the London trains of God’s Wonderful Railway, the GWR. This gave an added bonus as the trains had to be shunted onto a huge turntable to be pointed in the right direction for their next journey.

So, are schooldays supposed to be the happiest of your life? Not in my case. It was an isolating experience to be landed in a Grammar School of 700 boys where rugby and cricket were of paramount importance – and I couldn’t play either because of my brittle bones. Furthermore, I attended a Grammar School of 700 boys who were 98% Church of England and all attended morning assembly, but I was one of about 15 Catholics and Jews who didn’t get to participate.

Starting a Family

When I met my wife, before getting married we saw my Doctor to ask about the chance of any children inheriting Brittle Bones. He said we had a one in four chance. Spot on, we had four children, three girls, all fine, and a boy who did have O.I.  Whilst he did have some breaks in his early years his bones were stronger than mine were at a similar age.

The BBS was great helping as with growing family cash was tight. Initially they supplied a go kart for him. He loved that and it helped strengthen his legs. We lived in Plymouth at that time and took him down on Plymouth Hoe which was lovely and flat. Then came a Bomber Bike, which was good until we had a call from the nearby airport fire crew, our son had hit a rock in the road and gone over the handlebars. He broke both arms then, but thankfully received excellent care at the Royal Naval Hospital.

With growing family we had holidays of a self-catering variety mainly in Wales. There was one holiday when we went to the Isles of Scilly. My two-year-old son fell over and fractured his arm. At the island hospital a young doctor turned to my wife – a State Registered Nurse – and informed her that a child with brittle bones is unlikely to reach the age of puberty… She was furious! Not only did our son grow past his teen years, but he was even able to enjoy mountain biking, and in his later years he scaled the behemoth Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Life with OI

At age of 71 I had a fall which resulted in a ruptured quadriceps on my right leg, diagnosed too late to be operable. I then had a fall and broke my wrist badly; I was hospitalized for 2 weeks in Cheltenham General and 2 weeks in a cottage hospital. A plate that was put in had to be removed as it caused more pain than help.

Following that fall, my family persuaded me to move to a retirement village which has lifts and flat surfaces throughout.

At age 78 I had a bad fall and broke my neck, surgeon did not operate and told me I was lucky to be alive and not paralyzed. Since then I have had falls in my flat which were uncomfortable but did not incur any fractures.

At 83 now, I have lots of aches and pains, a visit to an Orthopaedic consultant 18 months ago brought the verdict that I had severe osteoarthritis and he felt that replacement knee/hip ops were not an option. In the past two decades I have become profoundly deaf, despite treatment which delayed its onset for about twelve years from a French doctor experienced with treating patients with OI.