A deadly infection nearly cost Nic Ray from Oakhamm, Rutland her husband...
December 1999 was a bit hectic for me and my hubby Tom. That month we were both turning 39, plus on top of Christmas, there was the New Millennium to celebrate.
Our little Grace, 2, was so excited. Oh, and I was heavily pregnant, with the baby due on New Year’s Day!
‘So much fun to look forward to,’ Tom grinned, rubbing my swollen belly.
We’d met at university, aged 18, but he’d had a girlfriend back then. Only, in 1995, when I was 32, Tom wrote to me out the blue. I remember you, do you remember me? his letter said.
Stunned, I agreed to a drink. And we fell in love!
By December 1999, we’d had Grace, moved into our dream cottage, were married, and had a son on the way. So happy!
On 9 December, Tom cooked some sausages for his lunch.
‘They’re out of date, but smell OK,’ he laughed.
Only, at midnight, he woke up with crippling stomach cramps, started being sick.
Those sausages, I thought.
‘It must be food poisoning,’ I said to him.
Tom was still feeling ill in the morning, so I dropped Grace off at my mum Jean’s for a sleepover.
Only, later that day Tom was even worse.
He couldn’t keep anything down, had a splitting headache and his hands and feet were freezing.
The doctor prescribed anti-sickness pills, but when I returned from the chemist Tom was barely conscious. His face was grey, lips blue, skin mottled.
‘Stay awake,’ I cried, terrified, as I called an ambulance.
Rushed to Peterborough District Hospital, Tom was fading fast.
By midnight, doctors still didn’t know what was wrong, and an angry rash was bursting up his chest to his face.
Then, at 3am, blood began seeping from his eyes.
‘Help!’ I screamed.
A consultant raced in.
‘He’s got sepsis, get him to Intensive Care!’ he barked.
My stomach twisted in fear as Tom was put on life support – I knew sepsis, or blood poisoning, could be deadly.
‘You’ll be OK,’ I promised… But Tom’s organs began shutting down.
At 5am, a nurse handed me his wedding ring.
‘You should call his family,’ she said.
Tom was dying.
Sobbing, I called his mum Angela, sister Nina, and brother Adam. Then I sat, helpless, cradling my bump and crying.
Days passed, and Tom clung on.
Little Grace was desperate to see him.
‘Daddy’s too poorly,’ I told her.
The poison tore through Tom’s body as he lay in a coma, and by my birthday on 15 December, his toes, fingers, nose, lips and ears began turning black.
‘It’s gangrene,’ the doctor said. ‘His limbs are dying. We might have to amputate.’
‘Both arms and legs?’ I gasped.
The doctor nodded.
‘As well as some of his face.’
For a week, Nina and I massaged Tom’s hands and feet, hoping to help his circulation and save his limbs.
It didn’t work – drastic amputation was Tom’s last chance. Doctors said he might not survive the 12-hour op. But he’d die without it.
Sobbing, I signed the forms agreeing to amputation.
And on 22 December 1999 – Tom’s 39th birthday – he was wheeled into surgery.
Tom was fit, strong, with everything to live for.
‘He’s a fighter,’ I said, willing him to pull through.
And he did! But seeing him after, my heart was in bits.
Tom’s mutilated body was covered in bandages, spaces where his arms and legs had been.
Outside, I was numb, in shock. Inside, I was petrified.
I spent Christmas Day with Gracie and Mum.
‘When’s Daddy coming back?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know sweetheart, he’s still poorly,’ I said. I didn’t know if she’d ever see her daddy again…
Poor Tom needed more surgery and amputations, as doctors battled the infection.
While other people rang in the New Millennium, I barely noticed.
Weeks slipped by. Tom was back in surgery again when I gave birth to Freddie on 17 January 2000.
Juggling a newborn with visiting Tom was hell, but family really helped.
And in March, Tom finally woke up.
Apart from his twinkly eyes, he was barely recognisable.
But he’d survived!
One day, I took little Grace to visit him.
‘He’s still your daddy, he just looks different now,’ I said, but she ran from the room.
‘That’s not my daddy,’ she cried.
It was simply heartbreaking. She refused to visit for months. Tom was distraught.
In the end, we found out it wasn’t food poisoning.
Tom had a chest infection and, on a trip to the dentist, his gum was accidentally nicked, letting the bacteria into his bloodstream, leading to sepsis.
Tom endured more than 30 operations and painful physiotherapy. But finally, after nine long months, he could come home.
At first, he had hooks for hands, before he got more advanced prosthetics.
But it was tough.
Grace saw a child psychologist, Tom and I both suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.
‘I can’t even kiss the kids goodnight,’ Tom wept.
We couldn’t be intimate, either, and I became his full-time carer, helping him shower, eat, go to the loo.
Money was tight, so we moved in with my mum and, for a long time, Tom didn’t see the point in carrying on.
‘I’ll never stop loving you,’ I promised.
But a black cloud hung over our once-happy family. There were moments I almost gave up, too.
It was Grace and Freddie who pulled us through.
Eventually, Tom learned to drive an adapted car, got a call-centre job, regained some independence.
And somehow, 16 years on, our family’s full of love again.
Grace, now 19, and Freddie, 16, are thriving and adore their dad.
It’s true what they say.What doesn’t kill you does make you stronger.
Tom, 54, says, ‘When I first woke up, I didn’t know where or who I was, or who Nic was, and it took weeks to understand I’d lost my limbs. I knew I’d had surgery on my face, but one day I caught my reflection in a window.
I recoiled in horror. My face had been butchered! I’d no lips and although surgeons had created a nose using skin from my shoulder, I couldn’t breathe through it. My mouth was just a hole and I dribbled constantly.
Without my hands and feet, I couldn’t cuddle my wife or kids. I felt useless, angry, took my frustrations out on Nic.
I’d be better off dead, I thought.
Until one day, Freddie kicked his football into an electricity substation. Determined, I got a ladder and, with my prosthetic arms and legs, scrambled over and threw it back.
His face lit up, and my heart soared. So I got a job, vowed to make the best of life.
Now, I really think I’m the luckiest bloke in the world. Despite my mangled face and false limbs, I’ve got a beautiful wife.And I got to watch my kids grow up.’