REAL LIFE

My hands were amputated – but that didn’t stop me from becoming a mum

At 17, Melissa’s life was changed forever by a preventable disease.

Over an 8 week period That’s Life are running their annual Mum in a Million competition in sponsorship with Fashion brand Millers, as a way of celebrating and giving back to incredible women, and sharing incredible stories of motherhood. In honour of the competition, we were motivated to share a story of one of our inspirational mums because That’s Life recognises that no mum is the same! The competition winners for Mum in a Million with Millers are announced in the magazine and online on May 3rd stay tuned!

Lying in bed, I felt absolutely awful. Hours before, I’d left work with a nasty flu bug. I was just 17, so my mum Julie, now 50, slept by my bed to keep an eye on me.

Waking up around 1am, my legs felt odd. Flicking on the light, Mum and I gasped in horror. They were covered in purple blotches, the size of 50 cent coins. 

Recognising it could be meningococcal, we woke my dad Phil, 52, and raced to hospital. Within minutes of arriving, I was injected with powerful antibiotics.  

But I was already critically ill with sepsis. Diagnosed with meningococcal B, I was in a coma for five days. 

When I woke up, I drifted in and out of consciousness. Looking down, I saw my hands and feet were black and grey. I know what that means,
 I thought, horrified. They were dying. Then doctors delivered some terrible news. 

They’d saved my life, but they needed to amputate my limbs. To make sure all the dying flesh was taken out, surgeons removed my legs from 10cm below the knee. I was devastated, but just two weeks later it was time to say goodbye to my hands.

How will I do anything for myself
 I wondered, shell-shocked. But I was thankful to be alive. At a rehab centre, I slowly learned to walk again using prosthetics.

melissa

Hooks were fitted to my arms in place of hands. If I wanted to open and close my left hook, I’d move my right shoulder. This is so confusing! I thought, trying to remember that I needed to move the opposite shoulder to the hook I needed.  

After nine months, I was finally allowed home. Using my forearms and hooks, I learned to do things myself – such as cookinga meal and dressing. I even learned how to drive a specially adapted car.

But when my younger siblings, Jason, now 28, Susan, 26, and Emily, 23, started getting married and having families, I wondered if I’d ever do the same. Out and about, people often assumed I had a carer, or had other misconceptions about me. Would dates be put off by my disabilities?

Five years after my illness, I moved out on my own. When I was 25, I noticed a guy, Wayne, 27, at church.

learning to use her hooks

Soon we fell in love. Five months later, after dinner at a nice restaurant, we walked along a path by the beach, and up to a scenic lookout point at sunset.

‘Will you marry me?’ Wayne asked, getting down on one knee and revealing a gorgeous gold diamond ring.

‘Yes!’ I screamed, overthe moon. He’d bought mea gold chain, so I could wear the ring around my neck.It was perfect. Six months later, we married in a beautiful ceremony.

Within a year I fell pregnant with our daughter, Amelia. When I held her in my arms, she filled a hole we didn’t know we’d had. I bathed her using my arms and dressed her with my hook.

‘Wayne’s good with kids,’ my bestie Shannel, then 25, mentioned one day.

Hmm… I thought, cogs whirring. Shannel could see that I was interested, so she set us up on a date. Meeting for dinner, we chatted for three hours without pausing for breath.

My disability wasn’t an issue for Wayne – what mattered was our spark.

with her newborn baby

When Amelia was two, her sister Charlotte came along. Although busy with two little ones, I’ve found time to take a job with the Amanda Young Foundation, supporting meningococcal survivors.

My life was changed forever by meningococcal B. Although a jab exists, it’s not on the PBS and not everyone can afford it. I want the jab for all five strains to be included in the immunisation schedule. Twelve years on, I’m here and I’m happy, but it could have all been so different.

Related stories