Mum’s Covid-19 battle while undergoing amputation surgery

Joleen Ritchie from Fraserburgh contracted coronavirus while she was awaiting further surgery to remove all four limbs.

By Louise Hosie and Haley Bouma

A woman who had her legs amputated due to sepsis before contracting coronavirus has told of her battle for survival.

Joleen Ritchie says she feels incredibly lucky to be alive and is determined to live her life in the fullest way possible.

Six months ago, the 39-year-old’s life changed dramatically when she woke up on Boxing Day struggling to breathe.

She was taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, where she was diagnosed with sepsis and pneumonia, and was placed in a coma for three weeks.

The news when she awoke was devastating.

“The doctors were telling me I had lost all four of my limbs and there was nothing I could do about it. I had to get them amputated,” said Ms Ritchie.

She had her legs amputated and was awaiting further surgery to remove her hands – as well as undergoing rehabilitation at the city’s Woodend Hospital – when she tested positive for coronavirus.

‘I didn’t think I’d survive after everything I’d been through.’

Joleen Ritchie

“I was in ARI for 3 weeks with Covid, that was really hard. I had made videos and everything, saying goodbye to my children and [telling them] how much I loved them and that I was going to be looking over them and things.

“I didn’t think I’d survive after everything I’d been through.”

The mother-of-four from Fraserburgh made it, and her fighting spirit set in.

“I was just determined that I could get my hands moving and my legs moving so that I could get home to my children.

‘There’s a lot of challenges in front of me. I can sit up now and move about and I can transfer and things. I wasn’t able to do that eight weeks ago.’

Joleen Ritchie

“They’ve been my main focus through the whole lot. There’s a lot of challenges in front of me. I can sit up now and move about  and I can transfer and things. I wasn’t able to do that eight weeks ago.

“I couldn’t speak or eat or drink  – I had to get fed through a tube for months as well. I found the not speaking challenging because I do like to talk.”

Joleen has now been at home for a month.

“It’s frustrating because I can’t just get up and go for a walk with my kids and things.

“I find that difficult. My little boy had asked me if I would take him to the treehouse in a nearby park,” she said.

“Because I can’t walk just now I didn’t know if I’d get my chair around it. It’s not just physically what I’ve been through, it’s emotionally and mentally as well.”

Ms Ritchie is returning to hospital on Tuesday to have her hands amputated. Her friends and family have rallied round, raising more than £15,000 for robotic hands and house adaptations.

“It makes me feel really relived to know there’s still a lot of good folk out there and that they can all come together to help Joleen,” said family friend Kyle Wilkie.

“She needs all the help she can get for the things she’s been through.”

Despite everything, Ms Ritchie remains positive.

“I just get on with it, I’m always smiling. The nurses are totally amazed about what I can do,” she said.

“I can feed myself, brush my own teeth, brush my hair, shower myself already. They told me that would take about a year to do.

“My physio is always telling me not to go 150 miles an hour and slow down. But I’m doing it for my kids.

“It’s going to be different but I love a challenge more than anybody. I’m well up for a challenge. As long as I have my children beside me I’m going to be fine.”

A crowdfunding page for Joleen’s robotic hands and house modifications can be found here.

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