My feet and hands were amputated after sepsis, says MP

  • By Helen Catt, Isabella Allen and Kate Whannel
  • bbc news

video subtitles, ‘Your legs and arms are dead’: Craig Mackinlay talks about losing a limb to sepsis

Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay returns to Parliament for the first time on Wednesday after suffering a life-threatening bout of sepsis that led to the amputation of his hands and feet.

Speaking to the BBC, the South Thanet MP recalls his experience of falling ill, his recovery and the shock of waking up from an induced coma to discover his limbs had turned completely black.

He says his arms and legs were “like plastic… you could almost hit them… they were black, dry, tight.”

“They managed to save above the elbows and above the knees,” he added. “So you could say I’m lucky.”

He now wants to be known as the first “bionic parliamentarian” after being fitted with prosthetic legs and hands.

‘A very strange blue’

It was on September 27 when Mackinlay, 57, began to feel unwell. He didn’t think much of it, took a Covid test (which came back negative) and went to bed early.

During the night he was very sick but he still didn’t think it was anything serious.

However, as the night wore on, his wife Kati, a pharmacist, became concerned and took his blood pressure and temperature.

In the morning, he noticed that his arms were cold and he couldn’t feel his pulse. After calling an ambulance, Mr Mackinlay was admitted to hospital.

Within half an hour it 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 deputy was placed in an induced coma that would last 16 days.

His wife was told to prepare for the worst, and staff described her husband as “one of the sickest people they had ever seen.” Her chances of survival were only 5%.

Image source, Craig Mackinlay

Screenshot, Mackinlay with his family in hospital

At his wife’s insistence, 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 are the strange dreams he believes were caused by the morphine.

When he came to, the grim reality set in.

When he wakes up, he remembers hearing arguments about his arms and legs. “By then they had turned black… you could almost hit them,” she says, comparing them to the plastic of a mobile phone.

He says he wasn’t surprised when they told him they might have to be amputated.

“I don’t have a medical degree, but I know what dead things are like. I was surprisingly stoic about it… I don’t know why. It could have been the cocktail of drugs I was taking.”

‘A grim Christmas’

The operation (for the four amputations) took place on December 1. He remembers waking up after the procedures feeling strangely alert.

So alert that he wondered if the amputations had really happened. “But I woke up and looked down and obviously you realize they had done it.”

Christmas was “somber” and he spent it with his family, including his four-year-old daughter Olivia. “She adapted very easily,” says Mackinlay.

“Frankly, probably better than anyone else. I think kids are remarkably adaptable.”

Image source, Craig Mackinlay

Screenshot, Craig Mackinlay’s daughter Olivia with her father’s new leg

Olivia has had to adapt to her father’s new prosthetic legs, which he has nicknamed Albert, in honor of the doll used by war camp prisoners in the 1950s film, Albert RN.

Learning to walk with his prosthetics has taken him time.

First, he had to rebuild muscles that had been wasted.

“My legs have never been big; I always say I have chicken legs, but now they are sparrow legs.

“They didn’t have any muscles, it was pretty horrible. You lifted the leg and you can see a bone and something like hanging out.”

Once the prosthetic legs were fitted, he slowly learned to walk again.

“After a while very quickly you think ‘I can do this.'”

On February 28, five months after first feeling sick, he was able to walk his first 20 steps without assistance.

Inevitably, progress was fitful. She developed painful blisters in areas where her skin had broken and she had to stop for a moment. “That was very frustrating, for me walking was my sign of success,” she says.

Image source, Craig Mackinlay

Screenshot, Mackinlay remained in St Thomas’ Hospital, just opposite Parliament.

What is sepsis?

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

Symptoms may include severe shortness of breath and difficulty speaking.

If sepsis is not treated in time, it can turn into septic shock and lead to organ failure.

Mackinlay says losing his hands has been the hardest thing to deal with.

“You don’t realize everything you do with your hands… use your phone, hold your child’s hand, touch your wife, work in the garden.”

He says his prosthetic hands are “amazing… but they will never be the same.”

“So yeah, hands are a real waste.”

Like his new legs, his hands were originally provided by the NHS, but he has since left the NHS in search of new hands, likening the original prosthetic hands he was given to “something from medieval times”.

“They’re just blunt objects. I looked at them and thought, ‘well, I’m not sure what they’re for beyond breaking windows and fighting in pubs.'”

In addition to losing his hands and feet, sepsis has left his gums scarred, leaving his front teeth and face loose.

“I’m trying to grow a goatee to cover it up,” he says.

‘The bionic deputy’

Although his attitude is largely positive, Mackinlay admits to having had “low moments.”

“You have a little dream every morning because you’re in the land of nodding having a nice dream, and then you wake up and say, ‘I have no hands.’

“That’s what we realize every morning.

“It’s very easy to say, and I try to stick with it, that there’s little point in complaining or getting depressed about things you can’t do.

“You have to be happy and positive about the things you can do and every day I discover that there is something new I can do.

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

Screenshot, Hospital staff told Kati, who is a pharmacist, that she should prepare for the worst.

“We (MPs) probably spend too much time in Westminster, away from our families, chasing this, that and the other.

“Now you realize that the important thing is family, friends and children.”

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

Despite what has happened, Mackinlay still plans to fight the next election in his Kent constituency, which will be renamed Thanet East.

And he still has things he wants to do as an MP, particularly making sure sepsis is recognized as early as possible and making it easier for amputees to get the prosthetic limbs they need.

He also says he wants to become the “bionic deputy.”

“When children come to Parliament’s fantastic education centre, I want them to take off their parents’ or teachers’ jackets or skirts and say, ‘I want to see the bionic MP today.'”