A man whose sore throat led to him losing a leg and part of his foot has spoken about his life-changing journey and how he came out the other side to set up a new business.
Lee Kershaw, 49, thought he had norovirus just after Christmas 2012, but little did he know that he was seriously ill and would end up needing an amputation.
The Shilbottle dad-of-one had been working hard for his business, Domestic Electrical, and when one of his neighbours had the winter vomiting bug, he thought he had it too.
But, on January 4, 2013, he was struggling to breathe and went to Alnwick Infirmary’s minor injuries unit to be checked out.
Failing to improve after being put on a nebuliser, he was rushed to Wansbeck General Hospital.
And within 30 minutes of being admitted, he was in a coma.
He was taken to intensive care and diagnosed with group A streptococcal septicaemia (sepsis) which led to multi-organ failure, toxic shock and, later, pneumonia.
The conditions meant he developed vascular problems and necrotic feet which led to his left leg being amputated below the knee and part of his right foot being removed.
“It moved so quickly,” he said.
“I shouldn’t be here really. If I had gone to the hospital sooner they would probably have sent me home thinking it was a virus and I would have died in my bed.
“If I’d have left it, I wouldn’t be here.
“The hospitals did absolutely everything they could at exactly the right time and that is why I am still alive.
“The NHS has been amazing, the treatment I had was unbelievable.”
At one point doctors told Lee’s wife Vici and their family that there was a 10 per cent chance of Lee surviving.
“I was in a coma for two-and-a-half to three weeks and when I came round I had vascular injuries to my arms and legs.
“I had to learn how to do everything. I couldn’t even lift my arms, I couldn’t swallow, I had just wasted away.
“I have managed to recover the use of my hands and arms, but it isn’t 100 per cent and I still can’t feel a pen in my hands.
“But my feet were too far gone.”
After coming out of the coma and stabilising, Lee was moved to a renal ward as he as also on haemofiltration to support his kidneys.
On February 11, he was discharged to his home in Tyelaw Meadows.
“I came home for a bit and they monitored my feet – they were looking for signs of demarcation, to show that they were coming off,” he said.
“Being told that you are going to have your leg amputated is very mentally challenging.
“To be instantly disabled and to be labelled as that is difficult to comprehend at first.
“I went to North Tyneside hospital for the amputations and it was such a bizarre feeling knowing that when I left, part of me would be missing.
“I remember sitting outside surgery and feeling a bit scared because my future was in their hands.
“I woke up in the high dependency unit and when they came to change the dressing I couldn’t look down.
“It is really challenging to look at yourself and know that you won’t be the same again.
“I still find it hard to look at pictures of me from before with my leg and foot.”
Part of John’s right foot was removed as well as the left leg being amputated, at the end of February 2013. He is left with his little toe and surgeons used skin from the amputated leg to graft onto his foot.
After 10 days in hospital he was allowed home again.
But because of his injuries and the partial loss of use of his hands, Lee lost his business as an electrician.
Vici was due to start a new job as a pharmacy technician at North Tyneside hospital just after Lee fell ill in the January, but luckily she was able to delay starting so that she could look after their son Samuel, now six.
The family suffered financially and Lee struggled to cope with not being able to provide for his family.
“Vici and Samuel are everything to me, they are the reason I got through all of this,” he said.
“Knowing that I couldn’t provide for them was really difficult.
“But I didn’t want to let this get the better of me.”
After a few months, Lee was able to get a prosthetic leg and learned how to walk again using his new limb and learning to balance on his re-modelled foot.
Previously he had used his hands and knees to get around the house.
He decided that he didn’t want to sit around and watch television all day so started to teach himself photography and has now set up his own business, Northumbrian Images.
“I bought a new camera and got out and about,” he said. “I did loads of video courses and really got into it.”
Now he is exhibiting his work at Gallery 45 in Felton, having overcome his ordeal.
“I look at things differently now,” he said
“I see things that I didn’t see before and that helps my photography.
“It’s really hard to describe, I’m not religious, I don’t feel like I have been chosen, but I feel like I peeped over the edge and came back. I’m not scared of death.
“It has made me realise that my family are the most important thing.
“Losing part of me has been very mentally challenging, I would give anything, apart from my family, to have my leg back just for one day, but I refuse to let it affect me.
“I wanted to get a positive out of it and I have and hopefully the photography will take off.”
Lee added: “Sepsis is one of the biggest killers and more people die of that than lung cancer.”
Lee has taken part in a video to help train staff about sepsis and how it affects people and some of his pictures are also being displayed at Wansbeck and North Tyneside hospitals.
Lee’s work is being exhibited now in Felton and he is also taking part in a meet the photographer event at the gallery at 11am on Saturday.
Other photographers taking part in the exhibition are Jake Cook, Will Nicholls, Paula Ansley, Simon Fraser, Christophe Chevaugeon and Lewis Jackson.
To see more of Lee’s work, visit www.northumbrian images.com or visit Circa at Amble, Muddy Boots in Ingram or the Breeze Gallery at Wooler.