Woman wakes from coma to be told her limbs have ‘died’ and need amputating

Woman wakes from coma to be told her limbs have ‘died’ and need amputating


A woman has described her sepsis nightmare after she woke from a coma to find her legs and arms had 'died' – and all four limbs had to be amputated.

Kathleen Maher was caring for her now late mum when she suddenly passed out and was rushed to A&E by paramedics in February last year.

Doctors discovered the 46-year-old had multiple organ failure and sepsis due to a string of infections and she was put into a month-long induced coma.

But when she was finally brought round, she discovered her arms and legs turned black and died.

The veins in her arms and legs had collapsed, and she'd developed necrosis.

In a series of operations, former Army surgeons who honed their skills in Afghanistan and Iraq, removed both her legs below the knee, and both arms above the elbow.

The surgeries saved Kathleen's life – but left her limbless, almost mute, incredibly weak and very poorly.

Brave Kathleen has regained some of her former strength and now relies on prosthetic split hook arms, and stump legs.

But she is determined to remain positive, and is speaking out to inspire others.

Kathleen said: "Waking up like that – after that second operation – was mortifying.

"You can't imagine how it is to have one life where you go on nice walks, drive about, and do kettlebell exercises with your best friends twice a week.

"And then to go to this other life, where – to start with – your limbs are black, you can't move them, and the next minute they're gone.

"It was like something out of a horror story, what happened.

"But I wouldn't be helping anyone if I was feeling too sorry for myself.

"And it's so important not to get my hopes up too much either about whether or not I'll make a full recovery or ever be like I was before everything.

"I just know that's not going to happen, so I have to be realistic – otherwise the depression will seep in if I expect too much too soon."

Former secretary Kathleen was healthy before her collapse, and was a live-in carer for her now deceased mother, who had dementia.

But one night she felt shivery, achy and had no appetite, and later passed out while she was making her mother's bed.

She was found at the foot of the bed by her brother Anthony, and  was rushed to a high dependency unit in South Shields Hospital.

Medics discovered she had multiple organ failure caused by several major infections – including double pneumonia, endocarditis, influenza B, and sepsis.

Doctors have not been able to establish how she contracted the infections.

While in the induced coma Kathleen was treated with massive amounts of different antibiotics to try to get all the infections under control.

Her kidneys practically failed and she was transferred to Sunderland Royal Hospital in March, for further treatment.

Her condition worsened and the veins in her hands and feet collapsed, causing her to develop necrosis – the death of cells.

When she woke from her coma six weeks after collapsing, and her four limbs were black and she couldn't move.
"It was just a horrible experience waking up like that," she said.

"I couldn't move my hands or feet – I couldn't even lift my head, it was that bad."

Kathleen broke down – and doubted whether or not she had the strength to go through the ordeal.

"It was absolutely heartbreaking – even though I was told it was the only option, you just think in your heart of hearts you don't know if you can go through with it.

"I knew, though, after that, there'd be serious complications – and since I wasn't expected to live without the operations, they were all that would save me."

Kathleen had two six-hour operations over two consecutive weeks in April – first to remove her legs six inches below the knee, then her arms five inches above the elbow.

The pneumonia had left her so weak that she also had severely reduced lung capacity, and spent some days "constantly coughing like an old man".

"I was so poorly," she said.

"I couldn't even lift my head, and my brothers and sisters used to have to lift my head and position it if I needed it positioning.

"I was getting so frustrated to the point of tears – it was horrible to go through.

"I thought I was going to be like this for the rest of my life, but I realised that at least I have a rest of my life to be like this at all."

Kathleen was given prosthetic arms and legs in October.

The arm hooks open and close as she moves her shoulders in certain ways – made possible by harnesses which are strapped with cables slung around her shoulders.

She praised her consultant Lieutenant Colonel Ben Banerjee, an Army surgeon who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and who had done so much to boost her spirits.

And her siblings have been by her side through the traumatic year she's had.

"My brothers and my sisters didn't leave my side for the first couple of months – and they've only just started leaving me alone now," she joked.

"I've had family around me all the time, and they've seen me at my very worst, in the months after the operations I had.

"I'm trying to just not be too down all the time, because that won't help me.

"I don't know if I could have gotten through without them. They've been wonderful." 

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