It was only a simple paddle in the sea on a family holiday in Crete but for Vicki Paris it changed her life.
After catching her foot on something sharp beneath the waves a slight infection set in.
A month later she was battling sepsis.
"It came on so quickly. Within four weeks I’d gone from having an infection in my foot to requiring amputation," recalled the 42 year old mum of one.
And she has a stark warning about the still much misunderstood disease: "Sepsis took my leg, it almost took me; it’s frightening."
Born in Exmouth, Devon but now living in Inverness, Vicki returned from her holiday in 2018 unaware of what was around the corner.
"I noticed my cut was red, swollen and tender. I had developed a slight infection and went straight to the hospital where they decided to stick my infected foot into a plaster cast," says Vicki who has also lived with diabetes since she was nine.
"But my health deteriorated rapidly. I was trying to work – my son was only eight at the time – and I’d gone from being able to take him to school which is only 50m across the road, to not being able to walk."
Her blood sugars too were running out of control and, taking strong painkillers, she admits some of that time is now 'a blur'.
"My body was unwell, my mind was unwell, and I had so many medications. I was very, very poorly."
It was on the fourth week of attending regular hospital appointments for her leg when disaster struck with Vicki’s body terrifyingly falling apart in front of her.
"When they took the cast off bits of my leg were coming away with it. My vascular surgeon was called to come and have a look. It was at that point he turned the lights off, the telly off, and said 'if we don’t take your leg, we’re going to lose you.' I had developed sepsis and it had to go."
A couple of weeks later, Vicki’s leg was amputated from just below the knee.
"I was looking at weeks left to live if I didn’t go ahead with it," she recalls.
After surgery, Vicki, who lives with her partner of 24 years, Jay, was initially confined to a wheelchair while she rehabilitated and got used to living with a prosthetic limb – a difficult adjustment for the keen gardener.
"Life in a wheelchair initially was very strange but I made a conscious decision at the beginning not to be in it for long. It actually lives in my attic now!
"Learning to walk with a prosthetic is tough. They can rub and cause swelling – it’s like getting used to new shoes."
Vicki’s ordeal happened when she was still in her 30s and admits clothes shopping is now a nightmare. "Nothing fits over a prosthetic leg, you can’t wear tights.
"Shoes are also a pain. My real foot is a size 4 but my prosthetic one is a size 5."
Years of conventional medication took their toll on Vicki’s health but since 2020 she believes she’s found a solution with medical cannabis.
"My prosthetic gave me shooting pains all day, and then phantom pains at night. The phantoms are the worst because you have a pain that’s not really there, but your brain is telling you it is.
"I didn’t want to take painkillers for a pain that doesn’t exist. Now I’ve found the right strain and strength of medical cannabis with Sapphire Clinics, I haven’t had phantom pain for over 6 months.
"I won’t be climbing Ben Nevis anytime soon, at least I can live a happy, pain-free life."
And she has a message about the infection which almost cost her her life.
"Sepsis is a killer. Everyone should pay attention to the symptoms and listen to their body."
Know the facts
Dr Ron Daniels BEM, is Vice-president of the Global Sepsis Alliance and Founder and Chief Executive of the UK Sepsis Trust.
He explains: "Sepsis is a life-threatening condition arising when the body’s response to infection causes organ damage.
"It’s always triggered by an infection, usually something fairly routine like a UTI, pneumonia, or even a skin infection. The body’s immune system goes into overdrive and it’s that immune overreaction that starts to cause the organ damage. So it’s more that the body goes a bit haywire.
"Most of the time sepsis is triggered by bacterial infections, but viruses can trigger it too, so a lot of the severely sick people dying during Covid actually had sepsis. And of course, funguses can cause it too such as thrush.
"Even in a high income country like the UK 20% of people who develop sepsis don’t survive it.
"If it’s caught early for the majority of people it’s quite easy to treat with intravenous fluids and antibiotics. Some will require intensive care though and although those who deteriorate quickly are the exceptions, sometimes even with the best care, some people can’t be saved."
The extremely important sepsis checklist you need to save a life today:
If something doesn’t feel right, follow this checklist from Dr Ron Daniels BEM. Recognise any one of these six symptoms and you should visit your GP.
S – Slurred speech or confusion
E – Extreme pain in the muscles or joints
P – Passing no urine in a day
S – Severe breathlessness
I – It feels like I’m going to die – and people really do say that
S – Skin that’s mottled, discoloured or very pale
Medical cannabis was legalised in the UK in 2018 which has allowed cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) to be prescribed by doctors on the General Medical Council’s specialist register. Sapphire’s aim is to enable safe access to medical cannabis.
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