It is a story to match any horror story of today’s NHS – the day doctors amputated the leg of a seven-year-old girl by mistake.
Emily Renshaw went to the doctors after complaining that her toe was sore.
By the time medics had finished with her, she was missing one of her legs from the knee down, after she was wrongly diagnosed with having a condition called TB ankle.
It could have ruined little Emily’s life for good. But the schoolgirl just got on with things.
And in a quiet way she made Shropshire history as one of the first three students at the Derwen Cripples’ Workshops – as they were then called – at Oswestry, which were created to teach skills to the disabled so they could earn a living.
“She didn’t think it was a disability. She did everything – painting, decorating, gardening, laying carpets. You name it, there was not a thing she couldn’t do, apart from swim,” said her daughter Mrs Jean Roe, of Broseley.
Kath Renshaw, as she became known, was born at Longden Coleham, Shrewsbury, in 1911, and went to the local school.
Mrs Roe said: “From what I know of it she came home walking on the ends of her toe. She told my nan that her foot was hurting. Nan took her eventually to the doctor. The doctor sent her straight to the hospital at Shrewsbury which diagnosed her as having TB ankle. The foot was taken off. After that she went home and she used a broom as a crutch to get around on.”
The school clubbed together to get her her first proper pair of children’s crutches. At one stage she did have a wooden leg, but after “peg leg” taunts from other children she took it off and went back to crutches.
Young Emily’s follow up care saw her going to Dame Agnes Hunt’s “cripples’ hospital”, which was at that time at Baschurch and, when that transferred to Gobowen and became Shropshire Orthopaedic Hospital, to there as well.
At some stage Dame Agnes Hunt and Rhaiadr Jones – not to be confused with the hospital’s Robert Jones – saw Emily.
“They said it shouldn’t have happened. This child should never have lost her foot. It was not a TB ankle, but stretched sinews,” said Mrs Roe.
Emily began doing various jobs at the hospital, and so when the decision was taken to create a training college for “cripples”, she was in place to be a pioneer.
Mrs Roe said: “Dame Agnes approached my mum and two other girls at the hospital, and they became the first three students. They were all best friends. One was also called Emily with a similar surname to Renshaw, and I think the third was also called Emily. Because of the confusion, my mum took on her second name, Kathleen, and was known as Kath.”
By about 1927 Kath had an artificial limb. Living on site, Kath’s work was making splints, leg supports, back supports and so on for disabled people, and she began accompanying the after care nurses as they went out to hospitals, measuring patients for what they needed. The arrival of men at the college was to change her life. One of them was John Podmore from Stoke-on-Trent. As a result of polio, one of his legs was six inches shorter than the other.
“Dame Agnes Hunt at the time didn’t like male students and girl students mixing together. Mum and dad started secretly courting. When they went in the dining hall dad would sit up one side, and my mum would be the other, and there was a clear space through so they could see each other,” said Mrs Roe.
John, being very handy at such things, built them both bicycles. “Every Sunday afternoon they used to cycle from Oswestry to Shrewsbury, ”she added.
The couple married in Holy Trinity Church, Shrewsbury, on August 29, 1936, and set up home in Penn Fields, Wolverhampton, where John worked as a welder.
“They were both very strong people. They made sure they could do everything everybody else could do,” said Mrs Roe.
By Toby Neal