Boxing day horror – I lost my hands and feet

'Skin from my stomach and back was taken to cover the stumps'
Loading the player...

Jake’s Christmas was nearly his last.

Here, Jake Clift, 29, tells the story in his own words.

Tucking into turkey and prawns with all the trimmings, it was delicious. I lived with my mum, Debbie, and she’d put on a Christmas lunch for me and my siblings, Joshua, 33, Travis, 28, Chloe, 26, and Bella, 23.

My younger daughter Matilda, two, was spending the day with her mum, but I’d enjoyed playing with my older girl, Willow, four, and her guinea pig.

Going to bed that night, I was full of food and Christmas cheer. But when I woke up the next morning, I was exhausted. I feel so sick, I thought. I wondered if I had gastro or whether I’d eaten something off.

before falling ill
Willow, me and Matilda before I fell ill

Everyone else was fine though. Stumbling to the bathroom, I threw up.

‘I feel really bad,’ I said to Mum, going back to bed. ‘Get some rest,’ she said.

As Boxing Day wore on, I still felt terrible. I even passed out a couple of times.

Everything became a blur. Confused and disorientated, I dreamed I was being rushed to hospital
in an ambulance.

Then everything went dark. When I woke up, I had absolutely no idea where I was. Opening my eyes, I saw I really was in hospital, hooked up to machines. And when I was lucid enough to understand, a doctor came to speak to me.

‘You had meningococcal W strain, meningitis and septicaemia,’ he explained.

It was January 5. I found out that as the infection had taken hold, my brain had swelled, making me disorientated and aggressive. Frightened, Chloe had called an ambulance. The ambos weren’t a dream, I realised.

By the time I’d got to Armadale Hospital, my body was covered in a purple rash.

Given just a five per cent chance of survival, I’d soon been transferred to Royal Perth Hospital. The infection had damaged my liver, and my kidneys were dying.

My arms and legs had swollen up, so they’d been sliced open to relieve the pressure. But the biggest shock was how they looked. My toes to above my knees, and my fingertips to my elbows, had turned completely black. I’m going to lose them, I realised, stunned.

My nose had changed colour too, but doctors were hoping to save it.

hands go black
Willow and me with my niece and nephew: my hands turned black

Looking at my numb, dying flesh, it was so much to get my head around. Why did this happen? I thought. Could I have stopped it? But I was immediately up for the fight.

Thinking of my gorgeous girls, I was determined to be there for them, whatever the cost. They need their daddy, I thought.

‘You’re going to be okay, Jake,’ Chloe promised. ‘You weren’t ready to go,’ Travis said. ‘You’re a fighter.’

I found out that my friends and family had been called to my bedside, to say their goodbyes. But Mum had refused to say farewell. ‘I never wanted to give up hope,’ she said, tearfully.

When Willow and Matilda came to visit, we tried to make sure they weren’t scared by what they saw. Seeing my black nose, Willow was surprised.

‘Daddy looks like Mickey Mouse!’ she said.

As my strength grew, I had to face the truth about my limbs. ‘Can you feel this, mate?’ my friends asked, touching my bandaged feet. ‘No, nothing,’ I said.

Because of how damaged they were, I had to be treated like a burns victim. So in February I was transferred to specialists at Fiona Stanley Hospital.

hospital photo
I focused on my girls to get through

‘I want them off, just take them,’ I told the doctor. They were no use to me now. I just want to get on with my new life, I thought.

The gruelling surgery was done in 12 stages, starting with my hands. Then my feet were amputated, before more of my legs were removed, until they reached my knees.

Skin from my stomach and back was taken to cover the stumps.

Afterwards, it was excruciating, but I saw each operation as a step closer to getting home.

Thankfully, my nose was saved although I lost some of one nostril.

Once I’d healed enough, it was time to start rehab.

Working hard, I built up my muscles and learnt how to get around in my wheelchair.

brother and sister
My brother Travis, sister Chloe and me

My girls climbed up on my lap, giving me lots of cuddles.

At first, Mum helped me to eat but I vowed to take care of myself as soon as possible. By velcroing a bowl and spoon to my arms, I could feed myself.

Then, I was fitted with a prosthetic arm that let me pick things up, even small objects like coins.

‘I’m so proud of you,’ Mum said, as I ticked off my achievements. It’s all a learning curve, but I can’t wait to get prosthetic legs and start to walk again.

I’m getting used to using my prosthetics

Some days, I wonder why I had to lose my hands and feet. I’ll never take anything for granted again.

I just wish I’d known how dangerous meningococcal can be. Until it struck, I’d always assumed it affected children, teenagers and the elderly – not fit, strong adults.

Now, I’m sharing my story to urge everyone to consider getting vaccinated.

This Christmas, I’ll get to swap presents with my family and hold my kids close. But there could easily have been an empty seat at our table. Meningococcal turned my life upside down, don’t let it change yours.

To help Jake, visit: gofund

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life, on sale now.

Related stories