My limbs were amputated after sepsis, says MP Craig Mackinlay

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Media caption,

"Your legs and arms are dead": Craig Mackinlay speaks about his sepsis limb loss

Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay is due to return to Parliament for the first time after suffering a life-threatening episode of sepsis which led to the amputation of his hands and feet.

The South Thanet MP recalled the shock of waking from an induced coma to find his limbs had turned completely black.

He says they were "like plastic... you could almost knock them... they were black, desiccating, clenched".

"They managed to save above the elbows and above the knees," he added.

"So you might say I'm lucky."

Speaking to the BBC, he said he now he wants to be known as the first "bionic MP", after he was fitted with prosthetic legs and hands.

'A very strange blue'

It was on 27 September, when Mr Mackinlay, 57, began feeling unwell. He didn't think much of it, took a Covid test (which came back negative) and had an early night.

During the night he was badly sick but still didn't think it was anything serious.

However, as the night wore on, his wife Kati - a pharmacist - began to get worried and tested his blood pressure and temperature.

By the morning, she noticed that his arms felt cold and she couldn't feel a pulse. After ringing for an ambulance, Mr Mackinlay was admitted to hospital.

Within half an hour he had turned what he calls "a very strange blue". "My whole body, top to bottom, ears, everything, blue," he says.

He had gone into septic shock. The MP was put into an induced coma that would last for 16 days.

His wife was told she should prepare for the worst, with staff describing her husband as "one of the illest people they'd ever seen". His chances of survival stood at just 5%.

Image source, Craig Mackinlay
Image caption,

Mr Mackinlay with his family in hospital

At his wife's insistence, Mr Mackinlay was transported from his local hospital in Medway, Kent, to St Thomas' in central London, directly opposite his workplace, the Houses of Parliament.

He remembers little of this - but what he can remember is the strange dreams which he thinks were brought on by morphine.

As he came to, the grim reality set in.

On waking up, he remembers hearing discussions about his arms and legs. "By then they had turned could almost knock them," he says, likening them to the plastic of a mobile phone.

He says he wasn't surprised when he was told they might have to be amputated.

"I haven't got a medical degree but I know what dead things look like. I was surprisingly stoic about it... I don't know why I was. It might have been the various cocktail of drugs I was on."

'A sombre Christmas'

The operation - for all four amputations - was on 1 December. He remembers waking up following the procedures feeling strangely alert.

So alert, he wondered if the amputations had actually happened at all. "But I woke up and I looked down and you obviously realise that they had."

Christmas was "sombre", spent with his family, including his four-year-old daughter Olivia. "She adapted to it very easily," says Mr Mackinlay.

"Probably better than anybody else frankly. I think children are just so remarkably adjustable."

Image source, Craig Mackinlay
Image caption,

Craig Mackinlay's daughter Olivia, with her father's new leg

Olivia has had to adapt to her father's new prosthetic legs - one he has nicknamed Albert, after the dummy used by war camp prisoners in the 1950s film, Albert R.N.

Learning to walk with his prosthetics has taken time.

First, he had to re-build the muscles which had wasted away.

"My legs have never been big - I always say I've got chicken legs, but now they are sparrow legs.

"There was no muscle on them at all, it was quite horrible. You picked up your leg and you can see a bone and a bit of sort of hanging."

Once his prosthetic legs were attached he gradually relearnt how to walk.

"After a really quite quick time you think 'I can do this'."

On 28 February - five months after first feeling ill - he was able to walk his first 20 steps unaided.

Inevitably progress was stop-start. He got painful blisters in areas where his skin had broken down and had to stop for a bit. "That was very frustrating - for me walking was my sign of success," he says.

Image source, Craig Mackinlay
Image caption,

Mr Mackinlay stayed in St Thomas' hospital, directly opposite the Houses of Parliament

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a rare but serious condition that develops when the body's immune system overreacts to an infection and starts attacking its own tissues and organs.

Symptoms can include, external severe breathlessness and slurred speech.

If sepsis is not treated early, it can turn into septic shock and cause organs to fail.

Mr Mackinlay says the loss of his hands has been the hardest thing to deal with.

"You don't realise how much you do with your hands... use your phone, hold the hand of your child, touch your wife, do the garden."

He says his prosthetic hands are "amazing... but it's never going to be quite the same.

"So yeah, the hands are a real loss."

Like his new legs, his hands were originally provided by the NHS, but he has since gone outside the NHS for new hands, likening the original prosthetic hands he was given to "something out of medieval times".

"They're just blunt objects - I did look at them and think 'well I'm not sure what these are good for beyond breaking windows and pub fights'."

'The bionic MP'

In addition to losing his hands and feet, the sepsis has caused scarring on Mr Mackinlay's gums, leaving his front teeth loose, and on his face.

"I'm trying to grow a goatee to cover it," he says. Although his attitude is largely positive, Mr Mackinlay admits to having "low moments".

"You do get a little one every morning because you're in the land of nod having a nice dream, and then you wake up and it's 'I haven't got any hands'.

"That is the realisation every morning.

"It's very easy to say - and I do try and stick to it - there's not much point moaning and complaining or getting down about the things you can't do.

"You've got to be cheerful and positive about things you can do and I find every day there's something new that I can do.

Media caption,

Kati Mackinlay: I knew Craig was 'hearing me' in hospital

"None of this would be possible without my wife… I wouldn't be where I am today without her.

"We [MPs] probably spend too much time in Westminster, away from our families, chasing this, that and the other.

"You now realise the important things are family, friends, children."

Mr Mackinlay said when he returned to work he would campaign to make sure "the health service recognises sepsis at the earliest opportunity".

He said: "It would have done nothing for me, mine was unusual.

"But for many people, there should be a recognition that you've got something severely wrong.

"A broad spectrum of antibiotics could stop you from losing limbs."

An NHS spokesperson said it provided a "comprehensive package" of care and support for people who have lost limbs, including a range of prosthetics.

"But there is more to do," the spokesperson said.

"All trusts should ensure patients are appropriately screened and receive antibiotics within an hour of a diagnosis of sepsis, and while delays linked to serious harm are relatively rare, trusts are required to have comprehensive plans for how they will respond to and learn from patient safety incidents."

Before entering Parliament, Mr Mackinlay worked as a chartered accountant. Originally a member of the pro-Brexit UK Independence Party, he was elected as a Conservative MP for South Thanet in 2015.

Despite what he has gone through, Mr Mackinlay stills plans to fight the next election in his Kent constituency, due to be renamed Thanet East.

He also says he wants to become the "bionic MP".

"When children come to Parliament's fantastic education centre I want them to be pulling their parents' jacket or skirts or their teacher and saying: 'I want to see the bionic MP today'."

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