Kristin Fox developed a bacterial infection and sepsis after coming down with the flu in 2020
A woman from Ohio is recalling how she lost all four of her limbs after testing positive for the flu and developing a bacterial infection that led to sepsis.
The mom of two went to urgent care, where she was diagnosed with the flu, given Tamiflu and sent home. However, the next day, things got worse.
"I was on my couch and my best friend texts me," Fox, now 42, tells PEOPLE. "She's like, 'How do you feel? And I had texted her back. I said, 'I feel like I'm dying' — and that was the last text she got from me."
Two hours later, Fox reached out to a friend who is a nurse, who came by to check her vitals. "She came and she's like, 'We gotta go.'"
Less than 24 hours after her initial doctor visit, Fox tells PEOPLE she was in the emergency room. "I went back to triage, and I don't remember anything after that."
What happened next was a rapid decline, as Fox went into septic shock.
Per the Mayo Clinic, sepsis is “a serious condition in which the body responds improperly to an infection. The infection-fighting processes turn on the body, causing the organs to work poorly. Sepsis may progress to septic shock. This is a dramatic drop in blood pressure that can damage the lungs, kidneys, liver and other organs. When the damage is severe, it can lead to death.”
In a typical year, at least 1.7 million adults in the U.S. develop sepsis, and nearly 270,000 die from the infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"They put me in a medically induced coma," Fox tells PEOPLE. "I was already turning purple."
"They kept saying, 'Something's masking an infection,' but no one said sepsis until the following day," Fox tells PEOPLE. "They said to prepare for some limb loss because they had me on so many [vapo]pressors."
As the National Institute of Health explains, "Vasopressors can cause significant vasospasm with potential ischemia [lack of blood supply] to multiple areas of the body including the upper and lower extremity limbs."
"So they thought I was going to lose a couple of toes or fingers," she tells PEOPLE. "Nothing like what I lost."
On March 27, Fox’s legs were amputated below her knees. The condition of her arms then got worse, and on April 6, they were amputated just below the elbows.
For Fox, the entire experience was surreal. She went into the ER for a bad flu. then "I woke up with no arms and legs" — in the middle of a global pandemic.
"I woke up and people were like, mask, a shield, goggles. Like I was like, holy Lord. I had no idea what had happened," she tells PEOPLE.
But Fox — a school administrator at Northeast Ohio Impact Academy — tackled her new reality with a pragmatic approach.
"There's nothing that's gonna change this. I'm never going to get my arms and legs back. So it was fight or flight, instantly. That has been the ultimate thing that has carried me through this — I realized from the first moment that it happened, my life is forever changed."
Weeks later, Fox was able to leave the hospital. It would be the first time she would see her her son Landon and daughter Laiken, ages 9 and 6 at the time, since March 9.
"I did not want my kids to see that. We wrapped my arms up and I saw my kids and they were crying and it was just so overwhelming for them. Well, when they got in the car, my husband followed me to Pittsburgh with them and the ambulance driver — he was so sweet — he pulled over at the gas station. He's like, 'You're thirsty.' I'm like, 'No, I'm good.' And he's like, 'No, we're gonna let your kids get in for another 20 minutes. They need to see their mom.'
"God bless. It was so sweet. And I still stayed covered. And then after they left me in Pittsburgh, my son told my husband that he knew about mommy's arms. He had seen it in a Zoom."
Fox went on to tackle 12 grueling weeks of physical therapy, three hours a day, at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Rehabilitation Institute in Pennsylvania.
"I have to conquer this because I have to be a mom for my kids," she tells PEOPLE. "They could have mourned my death. They didn't. I have to go and fight and kick ass in this therapy every single day to be the mom they need me to be."
While Fox was thinking about her children, she was also thinking about the broader impact of her recovery.
"I'm a teacher, I have students who are looking at me, my kids' friends, my niece and nephew — I had a lot of young eyes watching me," she tells PEOPLE. "And how I responded to it was going to ultimately determine the outcome of their mindset of it."
"If I did not go into fight mode and put on my game face that was going to ultimately affect that," Fox tells PEOPLE. "If I didn't respond well to the situation, I don't think they would have been as resilient to it."
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