Sarah Vine, 46, Cullercoats, Tyne and Wear explains how a swim in the sun nearly took her hubby's life...



Seven whole days of sunbathing, swimming and not a lot else.

‘I just can’t wait!’ I grinned to my hubby Stewart, 55.

We both worked hard, me as a nurse, him as a sales manager. And we couldn’t wait for our week in Antigua.

Excited, we set off on 9 September last year – but, when we arrived at our hotel…

‘It doesn’t look very clean,’ said Stewart, surveying the state of our room.

‘None of it does,’ I agreed, looking out of the window at the grounds.

But we resolved to make the best of it. After all, we were in the Caribbean!

But on our third day by the hotel pool, Stewart was swimming when all of a sudden he jerked.

‘Ow!’ he cried.

He got out of the pool and limped over to me.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘I’ve just scraped my toe on something sharp in the pool,’ he said, investigating his foot.

There was just a cut on the little toe on his left foot, but it wasn’t deep at all, just a small scrape.

We looked in the pool, but we couldn’t find anything sharp that could’ve scratched Stewart’s foot.

‘Oh well, it’s only tiny,’ he said.

We told the apologetic staff, and didn’t think much more of it, though Stewart did apply some antiseptic cream to the scratch.

Two days later, he started to feel unwell. He started shaking, vomiting, and had a nasty fever.

That night, Stewart was sweating so much that the bed sheets in our room were wringing wet.

‘I must have sunstroke,’ he groaned.

On 16 September, Stewart said he felt well enough to catch our flight home, having taken paracetamol.

Once the plane took off, I made sure he was OK before dozing off.

But within half an hour, I woke with a start, as Stewart was shaking violently in his seat. In fact, it was like he was having a fit.

Completely delirious, he wasn’t making any sense, and just kept babbling.

I knew something was very wrong…

The cabin crew brought him some water, as well as an oxygen machine.

We also tested his blood-sugar level, which should usually lie between 5 and 8. Stewart’s was 27.

As a nurse, I knew what that meant.

It’s not sunstroke, it’s an infection, I thought to myself. But what could have caused it?

The panic was overwhelming. My hubby needed medical help, yet we were 30,000ft in the air!

We’re going to lose him. But I pushed away those dreadful thoughts and tried my best to comfort Stewart.

Somehow, his condition seemed to improve towards the end of the eight-hour flight.

To my relief, he suddenly returned to his senses, but couldn’t remember any of the first part of the journey.

As he’d picked up, there was no ambulance waiting for us when we landed at London Gatwick, so I began to drive 300 miles north, back home.

But unfortunately we weren’t out of the woods…

During the journey Stewart fell back into a delirious state.

‘My foot,’ he howled in agony, and started complaining of terrible agony in his left foot.

That’s when it clicked.

‘Your toe!’ I exclaimed.

It just had to be something wrong with the little toe he’d scraped in the pool.

The nearest hospital was Leicester Royal Infirmary, so I took him straight to A&E.

When he took off his shoe, we were horrified to find that his little toe was bright blue.


Scans showed that Stewart was suffering from a massive infection, and his toe was septic.

‘If this was left, he could’ve died,’ said the doctor.

Stewart was given strong antibiotics, and was soon transferred to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, nearer our home.

There, we were given some disturbing news.

‘His toe might have to be amputated,’ the doctor said.

It was confirmed after we were sent on to Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital – the toe was so badly infected that surgeons would have to remove it, as well as a part of Stewart’s left foot.

I was utterly devastated for Stewart, and just couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

But doctors made it clear that if the toe didn’t come off, my hubby would die. We had no choice.

After more painkillers and strong antibiotics, Stewart was taken into theatre for the amputation.


Afterwards, he was no longer septic, but the surgery left a gaping wound that would take ages to heal.

There was no certain cause, but we think the toe must have become infected after he’d cut it in the pool.

It’s so crazy that one tiny scrape went on to cause such catastrophe.

Poor Stewart had to give up his job, as it required him to be constantly on his feet. But he loved his work, especially as it helped to fund our travels, alongside my salary.

It was heartbreaking to see him so down.


The wound finally closed four months after the amputation. In January, Stewart was given an inflatable boot to keep his foot stable, ensuring a stronger recovery.

He’s still on 23 tablets a day, 16 of which are antibiotics.

I now look back on that flight home like a horrid nightmare, and I think I’d be scared to travel by plane again.

Stewart is finally walking again, but a full recovery is going to take some time, if it’s even possible.

But if one thing’s for sure, it’s that I’ll be with him every step of the way.