The inspirational story of the runner forced to have her leg amputated after developing a CHEST INFECTION – but who's now jogging again and fitter than ever
Debbie Grosch-Squance, 47, lost her right leg after a chest infection caused her to develop the deadly flesh-eating bug necrotising fasciitisThe Strep A virus that caused the original infection can sometimes mutate for no apparent reason and start attacking healthy tissueMother-of-two forced to make agonising decision to have her leg amputated rather than having reconstructive surgery
But vowed after the amputation she would learn to run again
12:57 GMT, 28 December 2012
Debbie Grosch-Squance became seriously ill with a flesh eating bug after contracting a chest infection. Doctors had to amputate her right leg to save her life
For many of us, struggling out in the cold this winter to exercise sounds like a nightmare. But for Debbie Grosch-Squance, it’s something she feared might never be possible.
Debbie, a mother-of-two from Plymouth, lost her right leg after a chest infection spiralled out of control. She became severely ill with a flesh-eating bug and in order to save her life, doctors had to amputate her right leg.
Today, she says she is fitter than she has ever been and also slimmer – and she hopes her story will inspire others in similar situations.
Her problems began after she developed a nasty cough and chest infection. ‘I’ve always been fit and healthy but this chesty cough really knocked me for six,’ she told MailOnline.
'My GP advised me to take paracetamol and ibuprofen but then two days later I began to experience a cramp-like pain in my right calf. It got progressively worse and nothing would ease it.’
After another visit to her GP she was provisionally diagnosed with DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) and advised to go to hospital.
What she didn’t know then was that she was actually suffering from necrotising fasciitis, a deadly flesh-eating bug.
‘I was told my chest infection was caused by the Strep A virus and sometimes it can mutate
for no apparent reason and start attacking soft and healthy tissue,’ said Debbie, 47.
‘Before the amputation I was a keen runner – half marathon standard – and I’d done a 10k the week before.
Debbie with her husband Tony and teenage daughters after her leg was amputated due to the flesh-eating bug
that nearly killed her
‘When I arrived at hospital the pain was getting worse and worse and I just wanted it to stop. I had some blood taken and a doctor came to speak to me when I was shown to a bed. That was the last thing I remember until 12 days later.’
In the days that followed, Debbie’s family, including her husband Tony and her two teenage daughters, watched in despair as her condition deteriorated.
The day after her admission, still undiagnosed, she began to go into toxic shock as the toxins began to affect her major organs and her blood pressure dropped to zero.
She said: ‘I’m told that doctors and other medical staff began to frantically try to get lines into my body and things looked very grim. I was taken down to theatre immediately and my leg cut open and it was then that the diagnosis was changed from DVT to necrotising fasciitis.’
The flesh-eating bug had ravaged her right leg and there were worrying patches of black tissue appearing on her fingers and trunk.
Doctors removed the dead tissue from Debbie’s legs and placed her in a morphine-induced coma in intensive care. She then went into cardiac arrest and her devastated family was told it was unlikely she would survive the night.
From the very beginning, the seeds of hope were sown that Debbie would eventually be able to run again. She was back in the gym a month after the amputation
‘When I was brought round 10 days later, my leg was basically just bone between my knee and ankle. It was in such a bad way that the doctors told me I needed to make a decision.’
One option was to have reconstructive surgery. But this would involve numerous operations – with no guarantee they would work – and she would still need a stick to walk.
The other option was to have an amputation above the knee and be fitted with a prosthetic leg.
In the end, the decision was made for her. While considering her options, she took a turn for the worse and spent four days battling for her life.
‘On Easter Sunday I signed the consent form to have my right leg amputated above the knee. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, but even today I think it was the right one. Being wheeled down to theatre knowing I was going to lose my leg was also very surreal.
‘Even when I came round, I felt so much better than I had for ages. Tony, my husband, remarked on how much better I looked already. I knew then that I had made the right decision.’
From the very beginning, the seeds of hope were sown that Debbie would eventually be able to run again.
Painstaking: Debbie had to learn to run again from scratch
‘Basically, my whole life as I knew it ended that day and I knew I would have to re-start my life all over again. I set myself small goals along the way, but always with the ultimate aim of being able to run.’
Her personal trainer before the tragedy, Naso Shemetras, also visited her in hospital. ‘She came to see me in hospital and promised I would get fit and again and I would run again,’ says Debbie.
'The whole experience
has really made me value everything in my life and really appreciate my health'
‘And she really did a lot to help me back to fitness – I was back in the gym a month after leaving hospital, when I was still on one leg and crutches.’
Naso later went on to win the Exorex Personal Trainer of the Year award for her remarkable work with Debbie.
‘Once I was able to walk with a prosthetic leg without the aid of crutches or a walking stick, about nine months post-amputation, I walked the Race for Life and was ready for the big challenge – returning to running.’
It was a painstaking journey but with advice from another amputee, she began to make progress.
'He advised me to start by jumping from my good leg onto the prosthetic foot to gain confidence in my prosthetic leg and I practised this every day. I then tried the hop/skip style of running, where you jump twice on the good foot and then land on the prosthetic foot and repeat. This got me moving a bit faster.
Debbie says she is now fitter and more active than ever. She now runs twice a week, cycles and swims as well as working two jobs
then felt ready to try step over step running, so accompanied by my
husband Tony, and a belt round my waist so he could hold me up whilst
attempting it, we went to the local athletics track.
was hard work and the first few steps I made were very clumsy and
awkward, much like a baby elephant. It was exhausting and I realised
just how hard this was going to be.'
She then enlisted the help of running coach Julian Wills. ‘I was very nervous to start with. He had to teach me how to run completely from scratch, as I could hardly put one foot in front of the other.
'It was exhausting – my own leg had to learn how to run alongside a mechanical leg which was quite alien to it, and a lot of the practise was to re-train my brain.’
Today, six years after losing her leg, Debbie says she is fitter and more active than ever. She now runs twice a week, cycles and swims as well as working two jobs as a supervisor of a pre-school and an admin assistant.
Debbie before her accident, when she ran to half marathon standard
‘I was a keen runner beforehand, so I
was pretty fit, but I’m definitely fitter now – and slimmer. I am now
quite obsessive about my health and fitness now. The whole experience
has really made me value everything and appreciate it. I’m also fitter
because you use so much more energy exercising with a prosthetic leg.
had to learn how to run up and down kerbs, but hills were my biggest
fear. Uphill is hard work – as an amputee, I already use up to 100 per
cent more energy to run, but running up hills is like climbing a
mountain – and Plymouth has plenty of hills!
'Running on the pavements is a whole
new ball game, too. The obstacles are many – cracks in the pavement, people,
dogs, children, drains, sharp bends and kerbs.'
Running downhill is particularly scary. 'I've fallen over a few times running downhill – usually at bus stops, much to the amazement of waiting passengers, but never hurt myself, thankfully.
'When I took part in my first run with able-bodied people, I ran it in 22 minutes – probably double the time I would have been able to do it in normally. It was 1.5 miles, which doesn't seem a lot – or it certainly didn’t when I had two legs. But that was then and this is now, and it was a challenge for me.
'I trained hard and even though I had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath, I got my first medal and was proud of my achievement.
'Above all, the important thing is I survived the whole original ordeal and I'm here today with my family.'
For more information about amputee running and my journey, visit Debbie’s website: http://www.amputee-running.com/