A year after a raging infection cost Kristan Seaford her limbs, the mom of five says she's grateful to be alive

By Michelle Boudin
Updated November 24, 2014 01:05 PM
Credit: Catalina Kulczar

Last Thanksgiving, Kristan Seaford was in a medically induced coma at a Charlotte, North Carolina, hospital. Her organs were on the verge of shutting down. Doctors told her husband, Brook, to prepare himself and their five children to say goodbye.

Seaford, 39, an exercise instructor and avid runner who had qualified for the Boston Marathon, had been planning to host 30 relatives and friends for the holiday when she came down with the flu and strep throat. But the common infection progressed into pneumonia and sepsis, a rare and potentially lethal complication.

“Most people that come in that sick don t survive, says Dr. Wheeler Jervis, intensive care medical director at NovantHealth Presbyterian Medical Center, where Seaford was admitted a year ago Monday.

About six weeks after Seaford entered the hospital, doctors told Brook, 39, a manager at an insurance company, that the only way to save his wife from the raging infection was to amputate her compromised limbs.

He gave the go-ahead. “I just wanted her to live,” says Brook, 39. “That was the priority.”

Doctors took both Seaford’s hands, her left leg and much of her right foot.

Amazing Recovery

Astonishingly, Seaford survived and began a long and arduous road of surgeries, prosthetic fittings and grueling physical therapy.

She also displayed some uncommonly wise mothering as she helped her children adjust to the new normal. From Ben, 11, who was able to understand and help his mom, to the baby, Jeannie, who had just turned 1 year old when Seaford fell ill, each child went through a separate and not always easy adjustment, Seaford tells PEOPLE.

When Seaford came home after more than three months in the hospital, Jeannie was terrified to see her mother looking so changed.

I just wanted to be her mom, but she wouldn t let me go near her, Seaford says.

Determined to reconnect with her baby, Seaford slept on a pile of quilts on the floor of Jeannie’s bedroom for two months.

“Time – and sleeping on the foor – it worked!” Seaford says. “She woke up in the middle of the night and there I was. As I got better with my new hands I was able to do more for her and be her mom.

Back to Being Mom

For Ben, it was an adjustment to get used to Seaford’s new appearance with two robotic hands, a prosthetic leg and a prosthetic foot.

“It was scary and I was worried she wouldn t be the same mom,” Ben says. “But she is.”

Ben likes that his mom has kept up her routine of making him grilled cheese sandwiches and having his cereal bowl ready at the breakfast table in the morning. His 6-year-old twin sisters, Maizie and Lauren, love making yogurt runs with Seaford, and Caroline, 8, gets quality time with her mom when Seaford coaches her after-school running club.

During her most recent sessions at physical therapy, Seaford surprised therapists by accomplishing her latest goal: using her hands to pour juice into a sippy cup.

And there are other, more dramatic milestones. Last summer, Seaford went back to teaching step aerobic classes at the local YMCA. She also is training for a 5K run that she will do with Caroline in Charlotte in December.

Seaford is doing all of this despite intense daily pain from the nerve endings in her arms. Doctors left those nerves intact in hopes that she can someday get hand transplants. There are also financial challenges; the family has good insurance but it doesn’t fully cover the costs of prosthetics, and Seaford has had to bring on child-care help.

A Special Thanksgiving

Her most cherished accomplishment, she says, is one she used to take for granted.

Sometimes [after a long day] I used to sometimes moan and complain and say, ‘I have to put the kids to bed,’ ” Seaford says. “Now I get really excited and say, ‘Oh, I get to put the kids to bed!’ ”

“To be able to sit in a rocking chair and read to them and sing a song. It s a simple thing, but that s what moms do.

For the Seafords, there is much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving – to be held at the home of Seaford’s sister, Lauren Kaczmarski. Seaford is making creamed corn.

Brook says he’ll give thanks for having his partner in life. “I still get to see her smile every day, hear her laugh,” he says. “I can complain to her, share everything with her. I am so thankful. It s just the greatest gift.

Seaford says the meaning of Thanksgiving resonates especially deeply this year. “I am so incredibly grateful to my husband,” she says. “He has stuck by me the entire time and brought me back to life with his faith, prayers and love.”

“I’m so thankful to my kids for all they went through and that I get to still be here with them and see them grow up,” she adds. “We get to reclaim this holiday. I am just so grateful that I am here!”

For more information and to learn about fundraising for the Seafords, visit her donation website

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