Henlow teacher’s inspiring progress with prosthetic limbs after hands and feet amputated

PUBLISHED: 08:40 09 September 2020 | UPDATED: 15:09 10 September 2020

Caroline is beginning to learn how to use her prosthetic hands. Picture: Courtesy of the Coster family

Caroline is beginning to learn how to use her prosthetic hands. Picture: Courtesy of the Coster family

Archant

A teacher who had her hands and feet amputated after contracting coronavirus and then sepsis is making great progress in learning to master her new prosthetic limbs, intent on returning to a full life and helping other people.

Caroline began walking with the help of a pulpit frame. Picture: Courtesy of the Coster familyCaroline began walking with the help of a pulpit frame. Picture: Courtesy of the Coster family

Caroline Coster, a Year 5 teacher at Henlow Church of England Academy, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in March and admitted into critical care, where she was put in an induced coma for a month.

She developed sepsis and her blood pressure fell so low she was given vasopressors to ensure blood flow continued to reach her vital organs. It ultimately saved her life, but resulted in Caroline’s hands and feet turning black and having to be amputated.

Grateful to be alive, Caroline’s resolve has seen her make awe-inspiring progress in her rehabilitation programme at Queen Mary’s Hospital in London.

She begins every day in the gym at 9am with other amputees, each day focusing on a different area - arm muscles, glutes, core strength, balance or stretch and relaxation.

She has progressed from using a walking frame to walking with two sticks. Picture: Courtesy of the Coster familyShe has progressed from using a walking frame to walking with two sticks. Picture: Courtesy of the Coster family

Caroline explained: “After the classes, we work individually on more exercises and developing our walking skills. Walking can only start once core and glute strength have been built up.

“I began walking using a pulpit frame, which is a bit like a zimmer frame but taller. Once I had developed fluency with this, I moved on to sticks and I have now developed enough confidence and steadiness to walk with these sticks without anyone by the side of me. My next step, as far as walking goes, will be to walk with just one stick, and eventually with no sticks at all.”

The gym sessions end at noon and Caroline heads back to her ward for lunch, before her afternoons are filled with meetings or educational talks.

She is now beginning to learn how to use her prosthetic hands, but said: “I’ve been warned this can be a very frustrating process and it can take up to two years to become confident with them.

Caroline must complete a wide range of daily exercises as part of her rehabilitation programme. Picture: Courtesy of the Coster familyCaroline must complete a wide range of daily exercises as part of her rehabilitation programme. Picture: Courtesy of the Coster family

“My short-term goal is to be walking confidently by the time I leave and to be able to open and close the split hooks on my arms. Long-term, I want and intend to live a full life.

“Also, I hope to get our dog, Duke, registered as therapy dog and take him into Henlow Academy to help pupils there. I also intend to take him into Howard ward at Bedford Hospital for patients to pet. I hope in both places it will help people to see me as a recovered amputee.

“I have deliberately chosen to have my prostheses bright yellow. I know this will make them extremely obvious, and that is my intention. I hope to start conversations with people about the importance of being aware of the signs of sepsis and the dangers of COVID.”

Caroline also fully intends to take up sewing again and return to fundraising for Make a Difference Schools - Mombasa, a small charity providing education in the Kenyan village Utange. She makes new items out of old jeans and sells them, and aims to be at the MK Handmade and Vintage Fair in November.

Fundraising has also taken place to support Caroline herself, with her daughter Hannah setting up a JustGiving page at justgiving.com/crowdfunding/caroline-coster to help pay for adaptations to Caroline’s home, mobility aids and private prosthetic hands.

So far, more than £60,000 has been raised. Caroline said: “The generosity of people has completely blown me away and I feel very humbled and very, very loved. I have frequently gone back to reread the comments people have left with their donations and these have sustained me in many a dark moment. I’ve been particularly touched by the number of pupils who have run their own fundraising events for my benefit.

“The money has given us, as a family, real peace of mind. There are many immediate adaptations which we need to make – an accessible bathroom, a ramp to allow me to get into the house and a stairlift. The funds will also allow us to purchase a second, folding wheelchair, which will allow me to move around when we go out in the car and upstairs, particularly at night.

“In addition to these larger objects, other disability aids do not come cheap. The spoon I have purchased to enable me to eat independently cost £70, and scissors I can use will cost at least £50. I will need implements for peeling vegetables, a special cutting board with a guillotine to enable me to cut vegetables, and no doubt many more items we have not yet thought about. The donations people have made will really make a difference here.”


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