Teacher returns to class with bionic limbs after losing arms and legs to sepsis
An elementary school teacher who lost all her limbs to sepsis returned to teaching after being fitted with bionic limbs.
Kath Tregenna’s life changed as Christmas approached two years ago, when she fell with a fever that she couldn’t get rid of.
The fever became so severe that the London-based teacher had to be admitted to hospital, where she suffered between seven and 11 cardiac arrests and her family were asked to say goodbye.
Reflecting on her horrific hospital stay, Kath, 47, said: “I owe my life to the operator of 111 who noticed some of the symptoms of sepsis and called for an ambulance.”
To prevent the sepsis from spreading and save his life, doctors had no choice but to perform a quadruple amputation of both legs below the knee and both arms below the elbow.
Kath then spent a month in intensive care, and spent the New Year rediscovering the world around her but without any limbs.
She said: “My family came to visit me on Christmas, but I don’t remember anything.”
Kath is from Cornwall and for five years taught primary education to students at the International School of London before she caught the deadly blood infection.
At school, she caught what she thought was a common illness, but the reality was much more dangerous.
She said: “I was in school feeling a bit bad and decided to leave early that day.
“Over the weekend I was still sick and rested, on Sunday afternoon I decided to call 111.
“The call manager obviously sensed something and then decided to send an ambulance to my house.”
Kath went on to explain that the ambulance arrived, took her vital signs and she was admitted to the hospital.
From this point on, Kath cannot remember what happened, but was told that her body was in septic shock and that as a result, she would need a four limb amputation to to survive.
However, one thing remained clear to her.
She said, “As I recovered, I really knew in my heart that I wanted to go back to class and resume teaching.”
During her rocky road to recovery, Kath was prescribed prosthetic arm hooks which were uncomfortable and heavy to carry, causing her heart to sink whenever she had to put them on.
The mom of two said: “I always dreamed of being able to go back to teaching and I knew I couldn’t do it with those big hooks.”
Fortunately, as she was relearning how to take her first steps, the school where she worked rallied and raised enough money to cover the costs of a Hero Arm from British tech company Open Bionics.
Kath, who described her workplace and colleagues as “like family,” said: “This school is a wonderful place to work – it’s a very multicultural school and there is a wonderful community atmosphere. “
Shortly after being fitted with her first bionic arm, Kath became much more independent and a few months later had another prosthesis fitted to her other arm.
In total, Kath has spent 18 months recovering and is still coming to terms with her life after sepsis.
Reflecting on her experience, she recognized that technology had given her back her independence.
Now back in class part-time, Kath was amazed at the children’s reaction to her bionic arms.
She said: “It is thanks to the weapons that I can teach again.
“Whether it’s writing about the school board or carrying books, kids are obsessed with the Hero Arms and always ask me to show how they work.
“As soon as I get to school, I use my arms to do all kinds of chores.
“Going out with my arms really gives me a lot of confidence. They just allow me to do a series of activities in class, which I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.”
Kath’s arms were customized to her shape and matched her individual prosthetic requirements and design preferences.
Unlike her prescribed prosthetic hooks, which had limited functionality and were heavy to carry, Kath’s new arms use myoelectric sensors that detect arm muscle movements and convert them into intuitive hand movements.
Samantha Payne MBE, Co-Founder of Open Bionics, said, “Kath is amazing. Our entire team is in awe of Kath’s determination to get back to doing what she loves most: teaching.
“Seeing her use her two Hero Arms for everyday things really puts into perspective how important bionic technology can be when it comes to empowering people recovering from life-changing surgery a level of independence to achieve their goals. “
Open Bionics uses custom 3D printing and scanning when creating their bionic limbs, and the Hero Arm bionic was co-designed with amputees from Bristol.
Based on the idea of ”turning disabilities into superpowers”, the company was founded by Joel Gibbard MBE and Samantha Payne MBE to develop affordable assistive devices that improve the human body.