The Day Team OB Met Quad Amputee Kath

10th November 2021

Here at Open Bionics we love meeting members from the Hero Arm community. Every time a person is fitted with a Hero Arm, we invite them back three months later to see the impact the prosthesis has had on their lives, and give them a chance to meet the people behind the technology. This month, we met quad amputee Kath Tregenna. 

Kath’s life changed in November 2019, when she suffered a septic shock which resulted in her needing to have a quadruple amputation. Almost a year into her recovery, Kath is still discovering the world around her with two prosthetic legs and two Hero Arms. Putting aside having to re-learn how to walk in such a short space of time, our team were left in awe at Kath’s determination to get back to doing what she loves most – teaching. 

Here’s how our talk went. 

Kath, welcome! Shall we start from the beginning? Can you share how you became a quad amputee? 

Yes, sure. I came home from the school I worked at feeling a little unwell and thinking it was a common flu, I brushed it off and spent the weekend resting. Then by Sunday afternoon, something prompted me to call NHS 111 and seek advice. I believe that the call handler saved my life by sending out an ambulance to my house and that’s all I really remember from that weekend.

When did you find out you had Sepsis?

I later found out that my body had gone into severe septic shock and that night, I had suffered multiple organ failures. I had around seven to eleven cardiac arrests that same evening and at around 1:30am, the police knocked on the door of my house, woke up my husband and asked him to take our two children with him to the hospital. My father in Cornwall got a similar call so he drove 4 hours through the night to try and get to the hospital by the morning. I knew nothing about this as I was in a coma by this stage but they were coming to say goodbye because they didn’t think I would survive the night.

But I did survive! And I owe it to the incredible medical team who saved my life. My family said they came to visit me in hospital at Christmas but I have no recollection. By January, I started to get some memories and I remember waking up and noticed that my feet and arms were black and I was told I would have to have quadruple amputations.

In my heart I knew I wanted to go back to teaching someday, and I just knew I couldn’t personally do that with hooks and a wheelchair.

What was it like starting your New Year re-discovering the world around you as a quad amputee? 

My amputations took place that January and I was recovering well. When Coronavirus hit, prosthetic centres closed around April 2019 which meant I was discharged from hospital without any limbs. At the time, I just wanted to get home and be with the family so I could begin rebuilding my life.

A few months later, places slowly started opening up so I had two prosthetic legs made which were funded by the NHS and I started my walking rehabilitation. Eventually, I was finally able to stand up and walk around the house a little bit. Around September, I received my prosthetic hooks which were also funded by the NHS.

After receiving your prosthetic hooks, what made you want an alternative option?

In my heart I knew I wanted to go back to teaching someday, and I just knew I couldn’t personally do that with hooks and a wheelchair. 

How did you find out about the Hero Arm?

My friends and family were constantly reading up about prosthetics and doing research so they could learn more. People began asking if I’d heard about the Hero Arm and told me that they are 3D printed and affordable. I got my first Hero Arm in December 2020, which was amazing and super exciting.

Once I got the hang of using one bionic arm, it became part of me so I went ahead and got a second one. When I have two Hero Arms on and am lifting things around the house, I feel much more in control and my posture is so much better.

How did you fund your Hero Arms?

I’m a teacher and I was really lucky because while I was in a coma, my school had set up a Gofundme page on my behalf. Before long, I had raised enough money to consider private options for prosthetics.

Have you been back to school since?

Yes, I very recently went back to school. I decided I wanted to go back and see the kids I taught because what happened was obviously a shock to the whole community. I  just disappeared one Friday and at the time, my employers didn’t really know what to tell the children, particularly when there was a high chance I wouldn’t survive so it was a distressing time for everybody. 

By the time I went back to school, I had both of the Hero Arms and it was then I realised how they really took on a whole new level of importance in my life. When I’m in school now, I wear both arms at all times – they have become part of me. When I talk to people, it’s not this scary conversation about my disability and what happened to me. Instead, I’m known as an awesome teacher with super cool bionic arms! 

Before November 2019, you said you had no idea about Sepsis, what’s your take on it now?

I’m living proof that Sepsis can come on so suddenly and can be so severe. Everyone should be aware of the signs and symptoms, especially the prominent ones such as slurred speech, uncontrollable shivering, a skin rash purple in colour or purple skin or lip, not being able to urinate and feeling weak. 

If you do have any of these symptoms, you should seek emergency medical help immediately. In a matter of hours, your life can change so don’t hesitate. 

As well as having an opportunity to ask Kath questions about her journey, our team also used the opportunity to find out the features, designs and functionalities Kath would like to see in the future from her bionic arms. 

Check out Kath returning to the classroom with her bionic arms after 18 months away

If you would like to find out how the Hero Arm can help you achieve your goals, let’s chat