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Alex Brooker’s Impassioned Tribute To His Hero Alex Zanardi

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“I look back on my childhood and my disability and think that I was very fortunate,” Alex Brooker told Disability Horizons. “Within the realms of my disability, I was able to be quite independent.” In 2020, Alex fronted his own documentary – Alex Brooker: Disability and Me – which he has since described as “raw” and “cathartic”. “I also realised after doing the documentary that talking about my disability, getting off percocet cold turkey particularly with my parents, is much more nuanced than I thought,” Alex continued.

“I took a lot from that documentary and learnt a lot about myself. It was rewarding but also very nerve-racking because it is a film about something so personal to me.”

In a prior interview on the BBC Sounds podcast, Alex admitted he gets “very emotional” talking about how his children will feel about having a disabled dad.

“It’s one of those things that I slightly have made bigger in my mind over time,” he said.

When faced with the reality, however, Alex was somewhat relieved.

“My oldest was three and, literally a couple of weeks ago, she said something about my hand for the first time.

“We were walking by a river and she said, ‘Oh, daddy, you’ve got two fingers haven’t you, and I’ve got more?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, that was how I was born.’

“That was it, and she didn’t say anything else; she wasn’t freaked out, she didn’t stop holding my hand, she didn’t cry.

“So these horrific scenarios that I’ve built up in my mind, it’s all done and dusted in about five seconds, and I thought, ‘Jesus Christ, like 20-odd years worrying about that and that was it.'”

Limb deformities

Stanford Children’s Hospital explained that congenital limb defects is when an arm or leg doesn’t form normally as a baby grows in the uterus.

While the exact cause is unknown, genetic abnormalities, growth restriction and exposure to viruses in the womb could contribute to the condition.

Exposure to tobacco smoke has also been listed as one go the possible risk factors for congenital limb defect.

The most common defects include:

  • No limb at all
  • Part of the limb doesn’t separate, often seen in fingers or toes
  • Duplication, often seen as extra fingers or toes
  • The limb is much larger than the normal limb (overgrowth)
  • The limb is much smaller than the normal limb (undergrowth).

There is no standard treatment for a congenital limb defect, but choices can include surgery, artificial limbs, and splints.

When Alex was a child, he had an operation on his left hand, which made it easier for him to grip a pen.

“As a teenager, I had another brief visit from an OT after another op,” he said.

“They tried to sort out adapted crutches for me, but I still couldn’t be bothered with them.”

Alex spent a fair amount of time in Great Ormond Street Hospital, but he looks back at his time there fondly.

“I got to choose my food, eat ice-cream, watch telly, play Nintendo and I even got my own specified play specialist.

“Yes, you’d have to have an operation but, to me, I never looked at those in fear. It was like a little holiday.”

The Alex Brooker: Disability and Me documentary is available on BBC iPlayer.

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