A mum who fought Covid after falling ill with sepsis and having her legs amputated has achieved her dream of walking again by Christmas.
Joleen Ritchie, from Fraserburgh, became ill “out of the blue” and was taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary on Boxing Day last year.
It was discovered she had gone into a septic shock which was caused by pneumonia.
The 39-year-old was placed in an induced coma for three weeks and doctors later advised she’d need to have her legs and hands amputated.
Spending most of 2020 in hospital, Miss Ritchie at times thought she would never be able to walk again.
And prior to undergoing surgery to remove her hands this summer, she fell ill with coronavirus and had yet another hurdle to overcome.
Now, one year on from the day her life changed forever, the mum-of-four has revealed how she defied all expectations after a year of mental and physical anguish.
She recently took her first steps with her artificial limbs, after practising with the use of a zimmer frame.
Miss Ritchie said: “When I woke up from a coma, I never thought in a million years I’d get up on my feet again.
“My chest feels a lot clearer now and I can take some steps without the zimmer frame, my legs feel more natural.
“The first time I tried standing up, I was in agony. It was quite hard going, even things like side-stepping was difficult – but it was harder mentally than it was physically.
“There were different exercises I had to do like catching a ball.
“Getting up and down from chairs was challenging too, but I managed to do that. In the last three months, there’s been a big difference.”
Miss Ritchie added: “My kids were my main focus for getting better. I’m really happy and lucky to be alive to see my children grow up.”
She now hopes to have surgery for a robotic hand. Depending on how well the reconstruction of her other hand works, she may only need the one.
In the new year, it’s “the simple things” Miss Ritchie is most excited about.
She said “I’m looking forward to making dinners on the slow cooker and having the dinner all ready for coming home from work and the kids coming home from their clubs.”
Despite her ordeal, she said she continues to look on the bright side and hopes her courage can inspire others.
A fundraising page which was created by close friend Victoria Taylor to purchase a robotic hand and other equipment to make life easier for her has now raised almost £24,000.
Earlier this year, Miss Ritchie revealed the impact coronavirus had on her recovery efforts.
The Fraserburgh woman said the worst part of having the virus was the high temperatures it caused.
She said: “Every morning, like clockwork, I’d have a high temperature.
“I had a sore throat and difficulty breathing. But with the high temperatures, I felt like I was hallucinating.
“At the time, I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it.”
Hope for the future
Miss Ritchie now hopes to write a book and release a fitness DVD to help inspire others to stay positive.
She has maintained that her positive attitude has helped her through everything, and wants to spread that message widely.
She said: “I want to get back on my feet altogether.
“I’m planning on writing a book as well, everyone at the hospital advised I should write a book on what I went through.
“Once I’m fitter, I’m wanting to make an exercise DVD for amputees and hope to run groups to help people as well.”
Although the 39-year-old said there were days she felt down, she would often remind herself and others that “someone else has it worse off”.
She said: “For those going through something similar to what I went through, my advice would be to think about what you still have.
“When you realise you have everything you need, it does help.
“I got my hands amputated and I got back up, after everything I’ve been through I just kept getting back up and being myself.”
Miss Ritchie said the support she’s received from NHS staff and her family throughout her recovery was “incredible”.
She said: “I want to say a huge thank you to the staff at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and Woodend, they gave me a lot of encouragement. The support from my mum and my sister has been incredible too.”
Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction to an infection and is responsible for at least 48,000 deaths in the UK every year.
Also known as the “hidden killer”, it occurs when the body releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight an infection.
It causes the sufferers’ immune systems go into over-drive and starts attacking other parts of the body too.
The illness, sometimes called septicaemia or blood poisoning, can be fatal as it is often left too long before it is treated.
Some people are more likely to get an infection that could lead to sepsis including babies under one, particularly if they’re born prematurely, people over 75 and those with a weakened immune system.
Symptoms to look out for in adults include slurred speech, extreme shivering or muscle pain, passing no urine in a day, severe breathlessness, having a high heart rate and high or low body temperature.