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5th March 2020

A lesson on resilience

Mike Rolls says his golf game is stronger as a bilateral amputee than it ever was when he had both his legs.

The 37-year-old Australian has come a long way since a deadly infection called meningococcal septicaemia changed the trajectory of his life overnight at the age of 18. “I was given a 5% chance of survival and my family were told to say goodbye,” he says. For five weeks Mike lay in a coma, his breathing supported by a ventilator pumping oxygen into his lungs. Countless other medical technologies kept his organs functioning and allowed hospital staff to monitor him while making critical decisions about his care. Some of those decisions involved the amputation of dying limbs.

With no recollection of what had happened, Mike woke up to a new reality. He’d always been a keen sports enthusiast, which made his situation even more incomprehensible. “I was in immense pain. I noticed a couple of fingers were missing on my right hand. Once I found out that I’d lost my right leg, it was devastating. I thought: ‘How am I going to play football?’ I’d also lost half of my left foot and part of my nose.” Internally, the infection had ravaged his organs, causing kidney failure and a brain bleed, among other things. “It was a slow and painful recovery,” he notes. However, six months later, against all odds, Mike was able to go home and start living his life again.

He quickly adapted to his prosthetic right leg in rehab, but his remaining partial foot left him in constant pain. He endured it for eight years until a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan led him to a life-changing decision. Mike tells This Is MedTech: “I knew for years what had to be done, even if I didn’t want to admit it. The leg I was left with on my left side was originally done to patch me up and was never meant to be a good long-term solution. The tipping point was the diagnosis of a bone infection in the foot – something had to be done. That news gave me a chance to reflect deeply on what my life had become: pain-filled, restricted, debilitated. I’d had enough, I was fed up and I made a pretty big decision.”

Mike decided to amputate his left leg below the knee. Once he came to terms with the second amputation, things took off. Running became a new pastime and he was able to pursue his biggest passion – golf – at a competitive level. Massive advances in prosthetic technology have supported him both on and off the golf course. “The gear I am on now is a world away from the legs I first stood up again on,” he points out. “The thing that stands out is the range of movement and flexibility they provide – it feels seamless to walk.”

Aside from golf, Mike is an author, a founding member of the Limbs4Life peer support programme, and a professional speaker/coach on resilience and overcoming trauma. His mantra: “If something in your life is optional, it’s actionable.”