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Surgeon Amputee From Truro Shortlisted For Astronaut Job

March 6, 2023

    A surgeon specialising in amputation, who lost both legs to sepsis, has made it to the shortlist to become an astronaut.

    Neil Hopper, consultant vascular surgeon at the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust, defied advice and expectations by successfully returning to work.

    He made the European Space Agency’s shortlist for a para-astronaut but was then eliminated from the process.

    He said: “I got far enough to start worrying that I might get through.”

    Mr Hopper, who works at Royal Cornwall Hospital based in Truro, added: “When I saw the advertisement from the European Space Agency for a para-astronaut, I had to put in an application.

    “The criteria were quite specific, you had to have a doctorate in engineering or medicine, you had to have a disability below the knee, and you had to speak a second language – hey, Welsh.”

    Mr Hopper said his wife Rachel thought he was “completely crazy”.

    He travelled to Hamburg to take part in the selection process which involved medical, personality, psychometric and memory tests.

    He said: “I made it reasonably far through the programme but I didn’t get selected in the end.”

    Mr Hopper has told his story, which includes a gruelling recovery and a return to helping patients with a new perspective, for a Welsh BBC documentary.

    In the documentary, he explains how he had performed hundreds of amputations during his career when he lost both his legs to sepsis in 2019.

    “On the other side”

    He added: “I remember imagining the operation – operations which I do all the time, and thinking that power tools were going to be used on me. That was really difficult to process.”

    In hospital for seven weeks, Mr Hopper said the physical changes were “fairly easy to understand”, while the psychological changes and “fitting back into family life” were harder to grasp.

    But with prosthetic legs came a glimmer of hope.

    He added: “I was starting to think I’d never be able to go back to work, I’d never be able to play football with my son, walk the dog on the beach – that’s the kind of mindset I had.

    “But once I got legs, things started to change overnight, the future didn’t look so bleak.”

    On reflection, he believes his experience and ability to relate to patients has made him a “better doctor”, facilitating improvements to services throughout Devon and Cornwall.

    The surgeon had been advised to reconsider his career, but he said: “I was determined to go back to work.

    “I wanted to prove that they were completely wrong.”

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