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Liskeard woman who had legs amputated because of smoking wants to be a health warning to others

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 18, 2014

  • Victoria Marks at her home in Liskeard, Cornwall

  • Victoria Marks from Liskeard, Cornwall, with her husband Scott.

  • Victoria Marks from Liskeard, Cornwall, pictured on the 4th of September 1999.

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A brave woman is demanding the Government put her picture on cigarette packets as a health warning - after she had both her legs amputated because of her 20-a-day habit.

Former barmaid Victoria Marks, 41, puffed her first cigarette aged 13 and smoked heavily through her teens and twenties.

Mother-of-four Victoria gave up ten years ago when she was 31 but by then had developed a rare and devastating form of thrombosis called Buerger's disease.

The little-known condition slowly starved Victoria's limbs of blood meaning both her legs had to be amputated - and her arms could be next.

She is now confined to a wheelchair and desperate to spare others the same anguish that she wants to see photos of her ravaged body on the side of cigarette packets.

Victoria, who lives in Liskeard, Cornwall, with husband Scott, 42, and youngest daughter Beth, 11, said: "There needs to be more done to inform people of the dangers of smoking.

"And not just the major diseases but the rare and life-changing ones too.

"If anything, the government should put pictures of real people like me on the side of cigarette packets if they really want the message about smoking to hit home.

"Young people would relate far more to stories like mine than they would to a picture of clogged up lungs."

Victoria was aged 26 when she first suffered pain in her legs and swelling in her ankles but she put it down to long shifts and being on her feet all day behind the bar.

But the pain got worse over the following years and she decided to get it checked out and, after months of tests, was diagnosed with Buerger's disease.

By May 2006, with Victoria in excruciating pain and unable to walk, medics decided to amputate her lower left leg.

A week after the operation she developed an infection and doctors had to remove more of the limb above the knee.

After coming to terms with her illness and learning to walk with a prosthetic limb, Victoria started feeling similar pains in her right leg in December 2012.

Her doctor called her an ambulance and within hours a consultant had broken the news that the tissue was dead and she risked gangrene if the limb wasn't removed immediately.

Surgeons amputated her leg above the knee the same day.

Buerger's disease causes chronic inflammation of the blood vessels, which narrows the arteries and eventually damages and kills tissue in the limbs.

The cause is unknown but medics say the use of tobacco is a key factor and it normally only occurs in men aged over 45.

Victoria says that, like most people, she had come across Buerger's disease before her bombshell diagnosis.

She said: "I'd never heard of the disease before and there wasn't much information about it online.

"It wasn't until a year later that I discovered that the condition affected smokers and the best thing to do would be to quit the habit.

"It was the push I needed to stop the addiction and I haven't touched a single cigarette since.

"But it was too late, the damage was done. I gave up smoking ten years ago but had my first amputation three years later.

"I'm always on tenterhooks waiting for the day when I have to have my arms amputated too. Every little pain I feel in my arms, I worry and panic."

Victoria used to enjoy coastal walks and bike rides with Scott and Beth, and her older children Chris, 24, Charlotte, 22, and Jack, 20.

Now wheelchair-bound, she relies on Scott as her round-the-clock carer and needs Beth to help with the cooking and housework.

She has undergone 14 separate operations in the past decade but there is no known cure.

She and her husband believe every single consequence of smoking should be listed on cigarette packets - not just the obvious illnesses like heart disease and lung cancer.

Victoria said: "I have no doubt that Buerger's disease was caused by smoking.

"By the age of 18 I was addicted and smoking 20 fags a day. I knew it was bad for me, but I kept telling myself that I would give up when I was older.

"If I read and seen that smoking could lead to the amputation of my legs as a 13-year-old girl. I would have stopped there and then.

"At that age you are vain and you care more about the way you look than your health.

"Putting more people like me on the cover of the cigarette packets will raise awareness of the dangers of putting a cigarette in your mouth."

Scott, who quit his job as a fireman to look after his wife, added: "We have got worse to come and it's going to kill her eventually.

"It's been very difficult - she doesn't get up much and she can't get about. She can't be a mother to her daughter."

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  • johnlbell  |  March 18 2014, 12:36PM

    Are we not fortunate that the Big Tobacco Companies are NO LONGER ABLE to suppress the true cost of their 'industry' profits? I humbly ....... ask!

    Rate 0
  • Tony248i  |  March 18 2014, 11:54AM

    A very brave lady, and certainly publicity is the answer. I have never smoked, but I don't believe in prohibition- people have to be persuaded it's not a good idea. It saddens me when I see schoolchildren smoking- not only are they storing up trouble for themselves, but they look utterly ridiculous, not adult!

    Rate   3