Deirdre’s Story

My name is Deirdre Holland. Prior to April of last year 2013 I was a normal, working mother with all the stresses and strains that role entails. At 5am, Saturday the 27th April , I woke up feeling rather unwell. My condition deteriorated over the next few days to the extent that I went to see my Doctor on Monday morning. He was unable to fully diagnose my condition at that time so I returned home to recover. However my condition worsened rapidly that night. I was vomiting consistently and my feet and legs were really cold, I just couldn’t warm them up. Unusually I displayed none of the typical symptoms of Meningitis at that stage. An ambulance was called and I was rushed to hospital.

In my own mind, I thought everyone’s behaviour was bizarre and they were panicking for no reason. The last clear recollection I have is being in the ambulance being asked my name, date of birth etc. My next recollection is waking up in a room in the ICU department in St Vincents university hospital. In the moments after I woke up everybody seemed to be fussing around the place and I didn’t know why. I wanted to get out of bed and was told ”You won’t be going anywhere anytime soon” I found out that I had had multi-organ failure and my family had to face the possibility of me not pulling through…Twice.

I was in a coma initially and when I regained consciousness fully, I realised my hands, arms, legs and feet all weighed a ton, were incredibly painful and I couldn’t use them properly. I was encased in burn bandages from my neck to my feet. These were changed every 24 hrs by 2 dermatologists which caused extreme pain and which I came to dread daily. The medical team gave myself and my family the prognosis that I had contracted a rare strain of meningococcal Septicaemia (Men Y – one of only 2 cases in Ireland). I remained in ICU for 2 weeks after which I was transferred for specialized care to a vascular care ward.


“Their diagnosis was that I may lose a few toes”

I was transferred to a wheelchair less than 24 hours after being transferred out of ICU as the Physiotherapy team tried to get my circulation and specifically my limbs working again in an effort to save them. My skin had suffered enormous damage as a result of the Septicaemia rash. My feet were black, and looked like they had been in a fire, also my arms, hands and chest were still inflamed and covered in a violent rash. I couldn’t understand why my feet looked as they did but the true nature of my disability was explained to me very rapidly by the doctors and dermatologists. Their diagnosis was that I may lose a few toes. There were many serious complications over the following weeks. I had deep ulcerations on both hips which required 4 operations. I previously had had a significant bleed in my abdomen which had threatened my life. And despite the doctors best efforts in July I had bi-lateral above-ankle amputations when they finally acknowledged that they could do no more to save my feet . They had to stop the infection going any higher and to preserve the skin as much as possible.

Life in hospital was a constant battle not least the management of pain medication, skin preservation and medical management. During this time I made a start with physiotherapy, occupational and speech therapy teams. The heat of the hospital was made more intense and unbearable by the hottest summer in many years. I was constantly in pain, at times it was unbearable and ultimately had to be managed by a pain management and palliative care team. After 5 long, difficult and sometimes helpless months I was discharged from hospital in September to continue my rehabilitation at home. So began the next challenge.


“I continue to support my two daughters”

In October I was admitted to the National rehabilitation hospital in Dun Laoghaire to start an intensive pre-prosthetic conditioning therapy programme. This continued until the end of December and incorporated physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. These activities at that time were grueling and occasionally very sore. I was a day patient and would come home exhausted and drained every evening. However I started to experience small improvements in my upper body strength and regain some of my hand dexterity which had been severely compromised. Just before Christmas I had a further operation on my right leg in order to get it ready for prosthetics followed by the left leg in February.

The intervening months have been spent convalescing at home. I continue to support my two daughters who are sitting their Leaving certificate in June and readying myself for the significant challenges I still face. These include:

  • Physiotherapy and occupational therapy for my upper limb function
  • Prosthetic devices
  • Speech therapy for my residual speech impairment
  • Occupational therapy to regain my previous independence
  • Professional home-care
  • Specialised Transport – Specially adapted car
  • Reassessment of home accommodation

With your help I intend to regain my independence, go back to work and try to rebuild my life

Deirdre Holland
April 2014