Mother-of-two Julianna Bransden, 44, was living a “happy healthy life” until a sudden illness left her fighting for her life.
Ms Bransden first began experiencing flu-like symptoms on New Year’s Eve, a few days after celebrating a big Christmas with her family. After she went to bed to try and rest, doctors described her as “falling off a cliff”, deteriorating so badly that her heart stopped.
“Julianna’s husband Tim called 111 and they told him to keep giving her paracetamol, but when she was no better he called an ambulance,” Julianna’s mother, Linda Burgess, told The Independent.
“I actually lost my sister-in-law to something very similar, so we were very aware that people can get ill quite quickly.”
Ms Burgess said she received an urgent call to come and look after her grandchildren, 14-year-old Emilia and 11-year-old William, while Tim was rushed to the hospital with Julianna.
Once admitted, Julianna spent 18 days in a coma, with doctors working around the clock to treat her for septic shock, two cardiac arrests, and multiple organ failure. She had developed sepsis as an aggressive form of pneumonia brought on by influenza and StrepA.
Julianna eventually came round, but the sepsis had caused severe damage to her hands and feet, and both of her legs had to be amputated.
“It was a total shock,” Ms Burgess said. “We had never realised the extent of the damage that sepsis could cause, and that it could be caused by influenza and Strep A. Now you look back and it all seems like a blur.”
Ms Burgess praised her daughter’s bravery in the face of the “devastating” illness. She added that Julianna had “continued to smile at every step”.
“She has amazed all the medical staff because she has continued to be strong, resilient, and accepting of everything. She just smiles.”
Julianna is currently being treated at Withybush Hospital, having only left intensive care earlier this month.
“She was able to speak straight away. She was very weak, you could just about hear her, but we were so relieved she came out of it and was able to recognise and communicate with us,” Ms Burgess told The Independent.
“It wasn’t until some time after she woke up that the extent of the sepsis was explained. We were devastated.
“Her hands were badly affected, but her feet were causing the problem and it was going to compromise all her organs if we weren’t careful, so we made the wise decision to amputate, and once that source of infection was gone, she began to pick up.”
Sepsis is a common and potentially life-threatening condition triggered by an infection.
A sepsis infection can start anywhere in the body, and can occur as a result of a chest or urine infection, an abdominal problem – such as a gastric ulcer – or even from cuts and bites.
It is caused by the way the body responds to bacteria. The body’s response to an infection may injure its own tissues and organs. If untreated, sepsis can lead to septic shock, multiple organ failure and death.
According to The UK Sepsis Trust, the disease leads to 44,000 deaths in the UK each year.
Julianna’s husband, self-employed plumber Tim, hasn't been able to work since before Christmas, and is focusing on supporting his two children and getting Julianna home.
Julianna’s family, including her parents and brother, who have been by her side since her illness took hold, are now helping to raise money to support Julianna’s recovery, which they hope will include prosthetics. The fundraising page has seen donations total more than £90,000 in under a week.
The family want to get Julianna home as soon as she is well enough, but are yet to be given a date by the hospital, as she continues to receive treatment and wait for her hands to heal up.
Ms Burgess said the family is so “overwhelmed” by the support they’ve received, not just financially for Julianna but also in prayer. She said her daughter would want to raise awareness about the dangers of sepsis to help other people to recognise the signs.