12 amputations, 2 years recovery, 1 new lease on life

A Midlothian mother of two says the twelve amputations she has recently undergone are a gift.

Ed. note: This story and video contain graphic images that may upset some viewers.

MIDLOTHIAN -- A Midlothian mother of two says the twelve amputations she has recently undergone are a gift.

On Dec. 10, 2014, Jennifer Campbell was volunteering while battling the flu. She had received a flu shot earlier that year, but felt extremely ill and decided to pay her physician a visit.

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"I remember driving home from the doctor's office and calling my mom and saying, 'Something's wrong. I'm getting weaker by the minute,’" Campbell said.

Jennifer Campbell

She went to bed as soon as she returned home, but felt worse the next morning and was unable to take her two children to school.

Her husband took them, went to work, and came home to check on her early that afternoon.

"Had he gone downtown, as he originally planned, I would have died by the time he got home," Campbell said.

Her husband rushed her to the emergency room. She crashed 10 minutes after she was admitted.

Dr. Cedric Spak, an infectious diseases specialist at Baylor University Medical Center, says Campbell's flu led to sepsis, which led to her going into multiple organ failure. By the time he encountered Campbell in the intensive care unit, she was in a medically-induced coma.

"She was completely unresponsive, and we didn't know if we could save her, [but] doctors never want to give up," Dr. Spak said. "Her chances of survival were small, but not zero."

Dr. Cedric Spak

Campbell eventually regained consciousness two weeks later on Christmas morning, without any recollection of her near-death experience. However, the physical manifestations were hard to miss.

"My fingers were black, shriveled. They looked as if I had dipped my hands in black wax," she said. "I couldn’t move my fingertips."

Campbell's hand after she regained consciousness.

The sepsis, a complication resulting from an infection, was in Campbell's fingertips and both feet.

"During multi-organ failure, sometimes as the body is trying to survive, it gives up the least important parts of body -- the toes, and the hands [-- are] less important than internal organs," Dr. Spak said. "The blood vessels clamp down to divert blood flow to the brain, intestines, liver, lungs, heart. It's a desperate, last-ditch effort for the body to survive."

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On Jan. 6, 2015, doctors amputated her right leg below the knee and half of her left foot. The following week, an orthopedic surgeon cut off all 10 fingertips down to her first knuckle.

"One of the big challenges is identifying patients who are developing sepsis and how to help them," Dr. Spak said. "Even if you throw the kitchen sink at patients who have sepsis, you can't save them. Each case is unique, similar to a severe hurricane -- there are things about it that are common, but there are differences."

Shortly before she fell ill, Campbell started realizing a childhood dream of learning to play cello.

"That was the hard part for me," she said. "I grieved because I knew that that would not be something that I can continue."

Campbell spent over a year in the hospital. She was treated by more than 100 doctors and cared for by nearly 1,000 nurses. Nearly two years later, she says it is important for her to her to share her story to bring purpose to her pain.

Campbell after the amputations.

"It's not always what happens to you that defines you, but it's your response,” Campbell said.

Since her multiple surgeries, she has had to relearn how to walk, tie her shoe laces, and navigate her own kitchen. She admits to having bad days, but perseveres by allowing herself to go through the emotions and remembering how far along she has come since she first became ill.

"I tell people I am happier now than before this happened," Campbell said. "Going through something so traumatic, when you're moved forward from that event, that perspective is a gift."