Speaking to Bedfordshire primary school teacher, Caroline Coster, two things are immediately apparent. Firstly, you are unlikely to meet a more positive person and secondly, you are unlikely to meet anyone who had a tougher 2020.
Caroline, 58, caught COVID-19 (coronavirus) back in March and has now been sharing her story via the NHS and Bedford Borough Council to highlight the dangers of the virus.
When Caroline caught coronavirus, she was initially only poorly for a couple of weeks.
A week of recovery followed, including being well enough to go for a family walk, but she developed a chest infection three weeks after the initial coronavirus diagnosis which in turn developed into viral pneumonia and then viral sepsis.
Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to infection injures its own tissues and organs.
The UK Sepsis Trust website says: “A percentage of COVID-19 infections can result in such organ failure, meaning that some people develop kidney failure or shock rather than only respiratory failure.”
Placed in a coma for a month, not only did Caroline suffer kidney failure, but she nearly died twice.
When she came out of the coma, her hands and feet were black because of the Sepsis and had to be amputated.
Despite life-changing quadruple amputations, Caroline has a zest for life that would put most people to shame.
And she’s using her experience to remind others that coronavirus can be a devastating illness, whatever your age.
“I’m feeling positive and enjoying life,” Caroline told the Bedford Independent.
“It does shock people when I say that, but knowing how close I was to death, losing my hands and feet seems a small price to pay.”
Until she caught COVID-19, Caroline, who is married with two daughters, was working full-time as a primary school teacher in Henlow, regularly walking up to six miles with her dog.
“Although I do have very mild asthma, it’s never hindered me,” said Caroline. “It never stopped me living an active life.”
And now, losing her hands and feet has similarly not prevented her from being independent and getting up and about.
“Although it takes so much more energy to do anything, I do now have abs of steel, so talk about positives.”
As well as prosthetic legs, Caroline uses an electric wheelchair for longer journeys. “I got the bus into Bedford two weeks after I came out of hospital,” she says casually.
“The bus drivers in Bedford are marvellous and so helpful. Everyone I encounter has been amazing. So happy to help me.”
Caroline has taught herself to write, “I attach the pen to my arm with a footballer’s wristband,” she says, and has begun hand sewing again.
“Sewing is my hobby and although it’s taken a lot of patience, I can do it,” she said.
“For many years I’ve made bags out of old pairs of jeans to raise money for a charity that builds schools in Kenya and I can’t wait to begin raising money again.”
Caroline’s next project is to register Duke, her dog, as a Pets As Therapy dog, so she can take him into hospital wards and into schools to help others.
“I want to help other people with amputations. Not just because Duke is so relaxing to stroke, but to show people that your life isn’t over if you lose a limb.”
Caroline says people have been ‘amazingly helpful’ and she’s positive about the future.
“I’ve signed up to Riding for the Disabled and a friend of mine is taking me kayaking. I’m looking forward to trying new hobbies and I’m looking forward to my new life.”
Astonishingly, since sharing her story, Caroline has faced online abuse from so-called COVID-deniers attempting to discredit her illness.
“I’m hoping that when people see my story they’ll realise how serious coronavirus is.
“Some people won’t be convinced, but I have received an apology from an online commentator who revised his opinion and removed his comment once he’d visited my Facebook page and read my blog.
“While you might not be badly affected by catching coronavirus, someone you infect might not be so lucky.
“We all have to look after each other and see the bigger picture. I’m so grateful to have been given this second chance.”
You can read more about Caroline’s story and follow her progress at her Facebook page, A Journey of Recovery.