A father-of-two lost both his legs after a small cut on his hand from a machine at work developed into life-threatening sepsis.
Darren Spence accidentally cut his hand on a machine which is used to crush cardboard while working in the warehouse at B&M in the UK.
A week later the 45-year-old began to feel extremely ill. He visited the A&E department at Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington and was rushed to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle for emergency treatment.
Spence was found to have developed sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to an infection, and was placed in a induced coma.
He woke up three days later to find that his legs had turned black and he had lost the feeling in them. Around a month later, he had to have both legs amputated below the knee.
Spence, who is a father to Sam, eight, and Jacob, one, said: ‘I feel grateful to still be alive. I knew what sepsis was but I didn’t know the symptoms. It was a shock that it could happen from a cut. It’s shocked everybody that I have told.’
He said he cut his right hand while working in April this year and thought nothing more about it.
Spence said: ‘It all started with a cut on my hand, it was a total accident.
‘About a week later, I woke up feeling absolutely terrible. I started vomiting, I had aches and I had diarrhea. I felt like my heart was going to pop out of my chest.
‘At first I felt like I could manage it. The next day I came downstairs saying “Aimee I think I need to go to hosp” – I couldn’t get the word hospital out. At that point I thought I was having a stroke.’
Spence said he was getting ‘worse and worse’ as he waited with Aimee in the waiting room at the hospital. He said: ‘My partner got her mam and dad to look after our youngest son and we went through to the hospital.
‘At one point I was in the toilets lying down because I didn’t have any strength. Somebody came in and asked if I needed help. I told my partner I couldn’t feel my feet, it felt like pins and needles.’
Spence said that he was pre-assessed during triage before being told that he would need to be transferred to the Freeman Hospital. He said he remembers being placed into the ambulance but cannot remember anything else until he woke up in intensive care.
He said: ‘I didn’t know where I was, it was very strange. When they told me I had had sepsis I was like wow. I had my legs for about a month – I think the doctors thought they would be able to save them.
‘I knew, in my own head, I was going to lose them so I prepared myself a bit. I could tell by the color of them and the lack of feeling. I was starting to not be able to feel them at all.’
Around four weeks later, Spence underwent surgery to remove one leg below the knee followed by the second a week later. He returned home from hospital in June and has spent the last few months adapting to being in a wheelchair.
What are the key symptoms of sepsis? The ‘silent killer’ that can cause death in minutes
Sepsis, known as the ‘silent killer’, strikes when an infection such as blood poisoning sparks a violent immune response in which the body attacks its own organs.
Some 44,000 people die from sepsis every year in the UK. Worldwide, someone dies from the condition every 3.5 seconds.
Sepsis has similar symptoms to flu, gastroenteritis and a chest infection.
- Slurred speech or confusion
- Extreme shivering or muscle pain
- Passing no urine in a day
- Severe breathlessness
- It feels like you are dying
- Skin mottled or discolored
Symptoms in children are:
- Fast breathing
- Fits or convulsions
- Mottled, blueish or pale skin
- Rashes that do not fade when pressed
- Feeling abnormally cold
Under fives may be vomiting repeatedly, not feeding or not urinating for 12 hours.
Anyone can develop sepsis but it is most common in people who have recently had surgery, have a urinary catheter or have stayed in hospital for a long time.
Other at-risk people include those with weak immune systems, chemotherapy patients, pregnant women, the elderly and the very young.
Treatment varies depending on the site of the infection but involves antibiotics, IV fluids and oxygen, if necessary.
Source: UK Sepsis Trust and NHS Choices
The 45-year-old has now returned to work at B&M and earlier this week he received his new prosthetic legs. He said: ‘I want to get on with my life and play football with the little one.
‘I’m looking at life differently. I feel very lucky to have survived something like this that’s why I have taken it as well as I have.
‘Ever since I came back to work everybody says I’m happier now then I was with my legs. I feel more confidence in myself for some reason. A lot of people thought I would be more self-conscious about it.
‘I’ve had a few people come up to me and say “do you work here?” When I say “yes” they’ve said “good on you son”.’
Mr Spence has decided to release pictures of his legs as he wants other people to be aware of sepsis and the damage which it can cause. He said: ‘When I look at my legs I feel a little bit gutted but life goes on.
‘Sometimes I do get upset a little, but I just pull myself around and say you need to give your head a shake – it could have been a hell of a lot worse.’
His sister Leanne Charlton, 40, from Ashington, has set up a Go Fund Me page to help Darren become mobile again and get his independence back. She has so far managed to raise more than £1,400 in donations.
Ms Charlton, who is mum to Keira, 17, and Alfie, 10, visited her brother in hospital with Aimee. She said that at one point the hospital rang to tell them to come straight away so they could say goodbye to him as his health had deteriorated.
The mother-of-two, who works as a catering assistant at Wansbeck General Hospital in her home town, said: ‘Sepsis had affected all of his organs. As the day went on he got a tiny little bit better and they brought him out of the coma.
‘His legs were too damaged, they were black and there wasn’t much he could do. He had to have both legs removed because of a little cut. It’s brought him out to be a different person. He sees life in a totally different way.’
Mr Spence wants to thank the staff at the Freeman Hospital, who he describes as ‘absolutely brilliant’ as well as his family and his partner Aimee. He added: ‘I want to thank my partner for being there all the time, she never missed one single visit and she hasn’t slept upstairs since. She’s slept on the couch next to me.
‘It’s really shocked me how much people care in the community, it makes me very proud. I’m just hoping to get some adaptions done to the house to make things easier.’