Watch: Mum who lost limbs to sepsis looking forward to hugging her children thanks to bionic arms
A mum who lost all four limbs to sepsis will soon be able to hug her children again with the help of her new bionic arms.
Sue Neill, 51, from West Wittering, West Sussex, spent weeks fighting for her life in intensive care after she was struck down by a horrific case of sepsis, a life-threatening immune reaction to an infection.
The mum-of-five survived, but her nose, lips and tongue were destroyed along with her limbs.
Desperate to hug her family again, Neill pinned her hopes on high-tech prosthetics, known as Hero Arms, setting up a GoFundMe page in a bid to raise the £14,000 needed to buy them.
“At the moment, my arms are too short to fully wrap around my kids and cuddle them," the former care worker explains.
“The Hero Arms will let me hug my little girl again and that means everything to me.”
Neill's health issues started when she received a small nick to her gum at a dental check-up in January 2017.
At the time she didn't think anything of it, but within days an abscess developed in her mouth and her face swelled beyond recognition, leaving her unable to see or hear properly.
Believing it would go down, Neill took painkillers and antibiotics, but the painful inflammation remained.
Prescribed a further round of medication, after about 10 days the inflammation seemed to subside, but two weeks later, after a sleepless night, Neill's husband Dean, 54, noticed her face had turned blue.
Paramedics arrived within five to 10 minutes – and immediately knew Neill had sepsis.
Taken to St Richard’s Hospital, in Chichester, she spent three weeks in intensive care, fighting for her life as the infection raged inside her body.
Told multiple times Neill was unlikely to make it through the night, her grief-stricken family repeatedly prepared to say their goodbyes.
During her time in intensive care, doctors accepted they would need to amputate Neill's limbs, and in March, she was transferred to the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, West Sussex, Surrey, where she spent the next 10 months.
Surgeons first severed Neill’s arms at the elbow and her legs below the knee in April, but infection took hold and they operated again in June, removing them just above the knee.
Sepsis had even spread to her face, and as her body battled the infection, the tissues making up her nose and mouth became contaminated – leaving her with missing flesh.
“I lost my lips, my nose, all my front teeth and part of my tongue,” she says.
“At first I couldn’t even talk, due to the tracheotomy I’d had in my throat to help me breathe.
“When I tried to speak nothing came out – it was so frustrating I would scream silently.
“For over a year, I couldn’t even look at myself in a mirror because I didn’t look like me.”
Watch: Woman believes dog saved her life by sniffing out sepsis.
But Neill was determined not to give in and allow sepsis to steal any more from her.
Having remained in East Grinstead throughout the summer, she had her first two reconstructive operations on the facial damage wreaked by sepsis.
And, following a family Christmas at home, in January 2018, she was admitted to Queen Mary’s Hospital, in Roehampton, south west London, where she endured months of gruelling rehabilitation.
Over the following three months, Neill began regaining strength in her body and learning to operate her changed limbs.
“I saw how difficult it was for some people to learn to walk on their legs so I focused on my arms and building up strength in my body," she says.
“I went to the gym twice a day and loved every minute of it.”
Now Neill, who hopes to return to rehab next year to relearn how to walk, is determined not to allow her amputations to hold her back.
She was allowed to go home in March 2018, with a prosthetic arm for one side and a claw for the other, which she could use to manoeuvre items.
But she said the limbs were unwieldy and they were soon relegated to a cupboard.
“I tried them on once I got home and knew I couldn’t do anything with them,” she said.
Having learned to drink with a straw and feed herself using straps and adapted cutlery, Neill is hoping to regain even more of her independence.
She also aims to have further reconstructive surgery on her face.
“That’s the dream and it keeps me going, picturing how things could be,” she said.
“I’ve started printing off a lot of photos of myself prior to sepsis and putting them all around the house, because I really love seeing myself as I was.
“It’s hard to even have my photo taken. I just want to feel like me again.”
Having launched her GoFundMe to help pay for her new bionic arms, Neill was overwhelmed with gratitude when her cousin, Carmen Lewis, donated an astonishing £10,000 to her appeal.
She will add her cousin’s donation to £5,000 from the Open Bionics Foundation, creators of the Hero Arms, and £4,700 raised on the page.
Planning to design her new arms in colourful pink and purple to make them more attractive for younger family members, Neill is looking forward to brushing her own teeth and hair, holding her own sandwiches and of course cuddling her family in the coming months.
“Having the Hero Arms and finding a plastic surgeon to help me rebuild my face is the beginning, to help me get my life back," she says.
Samantha Payne, co-founder of Open Bionics, said: “We’re thrilled to support Sue through her prosthetic journey.
“The Hero Arm is a lightweight, multi-grip, bionic arm that can be styled the way you want it.
“We hope the NHS will update their offering for upper limb amputees like Sue.”
Sue is continuing to fundraise for the maintenance of her prosthetic arms on GoFundMe.
Additional reporting PA Real Life.