Vud-u believe it

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A brave Queenstown painter has finished a tough decorating job in a downtown cafe only months after having a leg amputated. 

John Fenton – known as Bo – spent three weeks up and down a two-metre high ladder painting the ceiling and walls at Rees Street’s new Vudu Cafe and Larder despite losing the limb to a muscle-eating disease and getting an artificial replacement. 

He’s done work for cafe owner Chris Vile for several years – so Vile, knowing of Fenton’s recent disability, called him to ask if he could recommend other painters for his second Vudu. 

“I just said ‘not a problem – I can do it’,” Fenton says. 

It was slow: “A six-hour day felt like a 10- or 12-hour day carrying the artificial leg around.” 

The horror disease – Necrotising Fasciitis – struck after Fenton cut his right leg on coral during a holiday in Vanuatu last December 

Six days later, home in Queenstown, the limb started swelling up but Fenton – a former ambulance volunteer – remained unworried and went to his GP for antibiotics. 

He was airlifted to Southland Hospital and the leg was amputated immediately – to just above the knee at first. 

There’s still “phantom pain” from his missing leg – “I’m on about 25 pills a day.” 

Fenton wasn’t even sure he could get an artificial leg initially. 

In six operations during 11 days, surgeons had to cut away his diseased leg higher and higher – to the groin.
Orthotics experts didn’t know whether they’d be able to get a leg to stay on because there may not be enough stump, Fenton recalls. 

However, after first getting a rigid leg without knee or ankle, he quickly impressed the experts and they gave him a new leg – with a moving knee. Now he has a new limb with a moving ankle too. 

From Timaru, where his pain managers and physios are, Fenton says the job at Vudu may be his last as a painter and that it “answered a lot of questions for me”. 

A construction site with power cords, planks and building gear is “too unsafe” for him and Vudu took 114 hours instead of his normal 70-80. 

“But there’s only one way of actually knowing what we can and can’t do and that’s to get out and try.” 

Fenton is determined to return to Queenstown with a new career. 

And he isn’t going to “watch life through TV”, he says – and plans to go skiing this winter.