The Boy Who Wanted His Leg Cut Off – Review

Dillion Chapman is a young 11 year old boy from Somerset, who was born with a condition called Type 1 Neurofibromatosis. Neurofibromatosis, is a condition where the nerve tissue has a tendency to create tumours of varying shapes and sizes.

In Dillion’s case, his neurofibromatosis caused his left leg to grow noticeable out of proportion with the rest of his body.  BBC Three’s The Boy Who Wanted His Leg Cut Off, followed Dillion’s journey as he resolved to have his leg removed and was continually refused his wish by the medical professionals advising him.

First and foremost, I have to say that this was another outstanding piece of television from BBC Three and there Defying The Label’ season, which began with Don’t Take My Baby last week. If the quality continues to flow in the forthcoming additions, we may be reflecting on this season as seminal moment for disability and television.

As with last week, myself and my mother sat down to watch with much greater anticipation than last week now that our expectations had been raised. Again as with last week, I would immediately suggest that this is not your lazy Sunday afternoon type viewing. Far from it in fact, but it is utterly compelling.

Some would no doubt watch the hour long documentary and say, “well there they go again, making a hero out of every child with a disability.”

This is a lazy analysis in my opinion and fails to properly recognise the issue at the core of the programme. At its heart, I felt the programme was about the medical profession. The producers did an excellent job of conveying how a condition can often be about more than just physical symptoms. When Dillion first went to see his consultant (Professor Briggs), he dismissed taking any action on the basis that his physical pain had lessened. However, I found myself gritting my teeth as Dillion’s obvious emotional turmoil was completely disregarded. The family then went to see Dr. Houton at clinic in Manchester, who told them that amputation was not a option.

Even from a medical perspective, I could not understand the surgeon’s insistence on keeping the leg. Just watching the young boy walk, you could see the strain that it was placing on his hips and pelvis. At one point another surgeon spotted the early signs of spinal scoliosis and yet still elected to take no action, which I found astonishing. And through all of this, was a brave young boy who was completely resolved to have his leg cut off.

But both he and his parents were continually told that ‘it would be too difficult.’ They were continually coming up against words like impossible or impractical. 

Now I do not claim to be any kind of expert on amputation but I am yet to see anyone who could not actually have some kind of stump constructed. Some people that I know have not been able to wear prosthetics but they get around just fine using crutches or a wheelchair. Leaving a limb that was not only causing pain and discomfort, but also could cause problems in later life seemed negligent.

At one point, I found myself screaming at the TV, “what are you waiting for?!”

At the end of the hour, when I was as frustrated with Dillion’s ongoing battle as he was, Professor Briggs (his surgeon) called him back to see him.

They sat in his office and he asked, “So tell me what was said to you up in Manchester?”

The conversation continued to until Professor Briggs revealed that amputation above the knee was possible (Hazar!). As his dad put it, “we were told it definitely was not going to happen. Then we told, it might happen. Then we told it definitely wasn’t going to happen. Now we’ve been told it might be happening again.”

It’s enough to drive anyone round the twist. I had to google, whether Dillion did have his leg removed before the end of the programme because I couldn’t take it anymore! I can honestly say that I will probably never again breathe such a sigh of relief at a child loosing a leg.

So what is the programme all about then? Well my mum said this, “I am always glad that we did not just let every surgeon that we saw do exactly what they wanted when you were a child.”

That is what I believe this programme represents, sometimes the experts don’t always know best.


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