When a persistent cough turned into life-threatening sepsis, Corrine Hutton, 49, lost all four limbs. But refusing to be beaten by a quadruple amputation, she set about breaking records in an inspirational display of resilience

In between running her own business, and being a single mum to a four-year-old, Corinne Hutton didn’t have time to get ill.

So when she was dogged by a persistent cough six years ago, she sucked on some lozenges and hoped for the best.

Her staff at her vehicle graphics company all relied on her, as did her young son Rory, who was looking forward to the summer.

Little did the mum know just how dramatically her life would change.

‘It was June 2013 when I went to the GP after coughing for two weeks,’ explains Corinne, who was an exercise-loving 43-year-old at the time.

‘I was diagnosed with a chest infection and prescribed antibiotics. But days later, it still wasn’t clearing up.

‘I began coughing up blood, feeling light-headed and hot. My mum and friend insisted I needed to go to a hospital.’

At the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, the feverish mum-of-one was rushed straight through to a medic.

It turned out she had acute pneumonia which, combined with normally harmless Group B streptococcus (GBS) living in her body, had turned into life-threatening sepsis.

Within the hour, Corinne was unconscious – one by one her organs were shutting down.

‘It was that fast – sepsis really doesn’t wait around,’ says Corinne. ‘They put me in a medically induced coma for the next three weeks and told my family to expect the worst.

‘I had just a five per cent chance of survival and was put on the Organ donor Register.’

While bewildered little Rory was taken care of by his dad, Corinne’s parents dashed back from their Devon holiday to be by her bed, and in Dubai her brother got on a plane not knowing whether he would make it in time to say goodbye.

Yet Corinne held on to life, drifting in and out of consciousness over the next six weeks.

In a last-ditch attempt to save the Renfrewshire mum, she was flown by air ambulance to Glen field Hospital in Leicester and put on extracorporeal life support, to keep her alive while her lungs and heart weren’t working.

‘It was a last shot and incredibly my body responded and it worked,’ says Corinne, now 49.

‘I felt like I was Wonder Woman because all the doctors kept telling me I shouldn’t be alive. I was transferred back to hospital in Glasgow.

‘But while I was overjoyed to be breathing, my body had fought so hard to keep my organs going my hands and feet had been starved of oxygen and I’d developed gangrene.

‘My feet had turned purple and my hands were just like solid blocks of charcoal brittle and not like normal flesh. They were dead.’

‘It was in July 2013 when the doctor spoke to his students in front of me.

“Ms Hutton is to have her hands and feet amputated next week,” he said.

‘That was the first time I’d heard it! I held it together until I was alone and then totally lost it. I didn’t feel like Wonder Woman any more, I felt very human.’

The family sought a second and third opinion, but the consensus was the same – Corinne had to lose her limbs.

Over the next few weeks, Corinne underwent 13 medical procedures in the process of having both her hands amputated, and both legs beneath the knee.

‘I was devastated and had no idea what to expect, or if I’d be able to take care of my son, but I tried to be cheerful for him. The nurses helped me hide my “nasty bits” under the covers when Rory came to visit,’ says Corinne.

‘You have to develop a sense of humour when you’re an amputee.

‘At one stage for the skin graft I had my left arm stuck in a splint to one side, while my right arm was stitched to my thigh to take skin from there. The nurse and I joked that I looked like a teapot!’

By September, Corinne insisted she be discharged to take Rory for his first day of reception class, albeit in a wheelchair.

‘I probably shouldn’t have been allowed out so soon but I couldn’t have missed seeing him go through the gates. It was an extremely emotional day because it was the same village school where I had gone as a child.’

Rehabilitation was a painful, drawn-out process.

The shiny new prosthetic legs were agony at first, and could only be worn for a few minutes a day.

Meanwhile, using a Zimmer frame with no hands was a challenge and required Velcroing the frame to Corinne’s elbows. But she persevered for Rory’s sake.

‘We have a rule in my house that if I ever say “I can’t” Rory has to call me out and tell me off. But even so, I hit a wall of depression,’ admits Corinne.

‘I’d gone from just thinking about the next procedure and surviving, to realizing that this was it now. This was my life.

‘After I left rehab I felt alone for the first time since surgery. My family and friends were there for me and continued to be by my side, but it was peer support I was missing. Meeting other amputees and feeling someone else understood.’

‘That was when I decided to start the charity Finding Your Feet.

‘Yes, it’s a funny name, but you have to laugh or you’ll cry.

‘If you laugh, other people feel they can laugh, and it becomes acceptable to be an amputee and not hidden away. Plus, Rory was often hiding my false feet and I would, literally, be finding them!’

After four months of rehabilitation, Corinne walked a mile through Glasgow on her prosthetic legs to raise awareness of the charity.

Her aim was to reduce the social isolation that many amputees suffer through support and sporting activities.

From helping her first five people in 2013 until today, Finding Your Feet has helped more than 3,000 amputees of all ages across the country.

The charity has raised more than £1.2 million to fund clubs and activities such as swimming, Pilates, skiing, as well as support groups and counselling.

‘It’s so important to stay fit and active and enjoy sport, for your mental health as much as anything,’ insists Corinne. ‘I’ve always struggled with the word “disabled”.

‘At Finding Your Feet, we promote the fact that being different is normal, and we should all be proud of what and who we are. I can honestly say that nothing has been more rewarding than helping other amputees – coaxing someone out of the house when they’ve been shut away, seeing them turn a corner.’

Corinne has exceeded her own expectations, proving that being an amputee shouldn’t hold you back.

In 2014 she was asked to give a TED talk, in 2015 she became the first female quadruple amputee to climb Ben Nevis, and in 2017 she was the first to complete the London Triathlon, but admits she nearly drowned!

‘The buoyancy of the wetsuit went wrong. And I’d also had surgery to remove two thirds of one of my lungs.

‘On the bright side, it meant I swallowed less of the Thames during the swim!’

Then in October 2018, Corinne raised more than £30,000 to become the first quadruple amputee to climb Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, accompanied by 10 supporters from Finding Your Feet.

It turned out to be the last big challenge Corinne took on without hands.

In January this year she became the first Scot to (and only the third in the UK) after a five-year wait for a match and an intricate 12-hour procedure.

‘Thanks to a selfless donor and her family, I now have hands again, and I am so grateful,’ smiles Corinne.

‘The best thing is being able to hold Rory’s hand. I’ve lived with hands and feet – and I’ve lived without them. Life goes on, and you can make it work. I want others to know they will cope.

‘My personal mountain in life just happened to be climbing Kilimanjaro, but yours can be anything that gets you out of your comfort zone. I would urge others to go out and conquer it.’

 

 

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