Mom Reflects on Going Blind, Losing Limbs After Giving Birth 10 Years Ago: 'Life Is a Gift'
Following the birth of her second child nearly two decades ago, doctors learned that Carol Decker had sepsis
Carol Decker will always remember the worried look in her husband Scott’s dark eyes as she was whisked away to have an emergency C-section in a Seattle hospital room where he wasn’t allowed.
His was the last face she ever saw.
When Carol, then 32, came out of a drug-induced coma 20 days after her second daughter, Safiya, was born seven weeks early in June 2008, she was blind.
That was devastating enough. But then she learned that both of her feet, her left hand and her right ring finger, had been amputated to save her life after it was discovered that she had a deadly blood infection called sepsis. Surgeons did the amputations to keep blood flowing to Carol’s vital organs.
“They didn’t think that I was going to survive, so they brought Safiya in for me to meet her, even though she was in the preemie unit and weighed only 4 pounds, 15 ounces,” Carol, who lives in Enumclaw, Washington, tells PEOPLE. “I couldn’t see her, but I could touch her and I could feel her and I knew she was beautiful. My children and my husband gave me the courage to go on.”
Next month — 10 years after her harrowing ordeal — Carol, now 42 and a popular motivational speaker, will publish a book about her experience, Unshattered: Overcoming Tragedy and Building a Beautiful Life, detailing how she found a sense of purpose after losing limbs and her eyesight.
It was May 2008, when Carol — who was seven-and-a-half months pregnant — was awakened early one morning by a sharp pain in her side. Thinking that it might be a kidney stone, her husband rushed her to the emergency room, but doctors didn’t find anything unusual and sent her home.
About two weeks later, after developing a 103-degree fever and starting to have contractions, Carol was admitted to a Seattle hospital and the situation quickly went from bad to worse.
Following Safiya’s birth, doctors learned that Carol had sepsis — likely brought on by a strep infection — and the decision was made to put her into a drug-induced coma for almost three weeks. When sepsis began attacking her organs, she was given kidney dialysis for three days, before amputations became necessary in a final attempt to save her life.
“Then after that, I developed a rare complication called DIC [Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation], causing tiny blood clots and bleeding,” she tells PEOPLE, “and I needed skin grafts over 30 percent of my body. There aren’t very many people who come back from that.”
The human spirit, though, is unpredictable, says Carol, and she summoned the courage to rally after Scott told her, “We’re going to get through this — you’re going to be able to do everything you did before.”
During Carol’s five months in the hospital, “It was very hard in the beginning to balance the hospital, kids and work,” Scott, a 42-year-old dentist, tells PEOPLE. “We just set goals and took things one day a time, and slowly, life has gotten back to normal.”
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“Probably the biggest factor in Carol’s recovery,” he adds, “is that we have lots of family, friends and community support. Although she required a lot of help in the beginning, she is now 100 percent independent in our home. And our daughters are very mature and helpful whether at home or when we are traveling, so that’s awesome.”
Her girls pitch in with household chores and pack their own school lunches, “and we appreciate our mom because she has overcome so many challenges, but has done so much for us,” says Chloe, 11. “She always tries to do everything she can to have fun with us, like jumping on the trampoline.”
“I’m grateful for my mom that this [life-saving] miracle happened,” adds Safiya, 9. “My mom cares for so many people and always has time for me and my sister to do things like go skiing.”
This Mother’s Day weekend, Carol will celebrate as she always does, gathering Safiya and Chloe close in thanks for the chance to “watch” them grow up in nontraditional ways: through touch, aroma and sound.
Recollections of Chloe — who was not yet 2 at the time of her medical crisis — are seared into Carol’s memory, bringing a smile whenever she remembers the last time she saw her daughter, picking violets in the back yard and holding them up to her nose.
“She’s a blondie now, but she had jet-black hair then, pulled into ponytails,” she recalls, “and she had the chubbiest cheeks and deep brown eyes. I’m so grateful that I’ll always have that memory.”
For years, she often felt depressed that she had never seen Safiya, and she had difficulty accepting that once-simple tasks, like baking cookies, had become a seemingly impossible challenge.
“I remember being with the girls and my brother one day, trying to do what I used to do with cookie dough and telling my brother, ‘I can’t do this — I’ll never make cookies again,'” Carol tells PEOPLE. “And then suddenly, Chloe reached over and touched me with flour-covered fingers and I realized that I was making cookies with my girls.”
“Life is a gift — if you don’t open it, you’ll never experience the beauty inside,” she says. “Probably more than anything else, I realize that now.”