Amputee surgeon from Truro shortlisted for astronaut job

Neil Hopper is an experienced vascular surgeon who underwent a double amputation after contracting sepsis

An amputation surgeon who lost both legs to sepsis made the shortlist to become an astronaut.

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

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

He said, “I’ve come far enough to start worrying about getting through.”

Nell Hopper

The surgeon was shortlisted in a search for a candidate by the European Space Agency

Mr Hopper, who works at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, added: “When I saw the European Space Agency’s advertisement for a para-astronaut I had to apply.

“The criteria were quite specific. You had to have a PhD in engineering or medicine, you had to master a disability and you had to speak a second language – hey, Welsh.”

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

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

He said, “I got pretty far through the program but ended up not being selected.”

Mr Hopper has told his story, of a grueling recovery and a return to helping patients with a new perspective, for a BBC documentary in Wales.

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

“On the other hand”

He added, “I remember imagining the surgery — surgeries I do all the time, and thinking power tools would be used on me. That was really hard to deal with.”

Hopper, who was hospitalized for seven weeks, said the physical changes were “fairly easy to understand” while the psychological changes and “fitting back into family life” were more difficult to understand.

But with prosthetic legs came a glimmer of hope.

He added: “I started thinking that I would never be able to go back to work, that I would never be able to play football with my son again, walk the dog on the beach – that’s the kind of mentality 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 deal with patients have made him a “better doctor”, enabling improvements in services throughout Devon and Cornwall.

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

“I wanted to prove them completely wrong.”

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