She can’t yet take the pain to use prosthetic legs.
She is still learning to master the fine motor skills in her bebionic right hand, and her stronger hook left hand.
But Danielle Linfoot is home with her family in Pitt Meadows.
“I needed to get home before Christmas,” she said.
An infection forced the Pitt Meadows mother of two teens, and a popular daycare operator, to have both her hands and feet amputated.
In January, Danielle had eczema on her leg, and was suffering from what felt like the flu of a lifetime. Her doctor believes the flu bug lowered her immune system, and when she scratched her leg, a streptococcus infection entered her blood stream. Within hours she was fighting for her life, suffering from streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.
Her husband Shawn called the ambulance as she became more ill. Her organs were shutting down. Danielle was taken to Ridge Meadows Hospital by ambulance, put on life support, then transferred to Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre, where she was on life support for 10 days.
Her hands and feet turned black.
“They told me to say goodbye to her,” remembers Shawn.
It’s a rare disease, but in London, Ont. there have been nine deaths from 132 cases of invasive group A streptococcus infections in the past 18 months. Health officials there say the infections have led to streptococcal toxic shock syndrome in 15 per cent of the cases and necrotizing fasciitis, also known as “flesh-eating disease,” in another 15 per cent of them.
About half of people who get streptococcal toxic shock syndrome die.
Danielle recovered, but by April 25, she had all four limbs amputated. The surgeries have been complicated by doctors wanting to keep both working knees, but they were able to save only one. They were able to save half of the knee, which will make it easier for load bearing on her prosthetic leg.
Danielle said people are rarely allowed to go home on their target date, but she was out of hospital on Nov. 22, as scheduled.
She can use her prosthetic arms to perform many tasks, can transfer from bed to her wheelchair on her own, and has gone from being bedridden for 22 hours a day to being able to be in her wheelchair for 12 hours at a time.
“There are things my occupational therapist would have liked to have kept me for,” she said. “I can’t tell you how much there is to learn.”
She has had to battle illnesses she got in the hospital, with pneumonia twice and other infections. Her health battles have left her with asthma and now she has a puffer.
“It’s been a fight every step of the way,” said Shawn.
She has him at her side, and a home care worker comes in for about an hour per day, and that support is part of the reason she has been able to come home in her new wheelchair-accessible van.
Leaving G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre was admittedly scary. It was a refuge, and a place that had a profound impact on Danielle.
“You see people there – I hate to say it – who are worse off that I am …” she said.
“I met some fantastic people who just beat the odds.”
Danielle also learned some of the new skills she would need for daily life from the staff there.
“When you’re in there that long, they kind of become your family,” she said.
The staff would have hugs for her kids when they visited.
“It was hard leaving there, but it was good coming home.”
“She was crying all the way from Burnaby,” said Shawn. “And it didn’t help that I had some sad Ed Sheeran song on.”
She said they were happy tears.
Shawn has nothing but good things to say about the health care staff.
“She is a unique case, and everyone has been incredible.”
The family stopped at a White Spot, and it was the first time in 10 months they had gone out together as a family.
Then she got to go back to one of her favourite family dining spots with their extended family at San Remo Pizza in Port Coquitlam.
“It was so nice to be out with everybody.”
She is confined to the downstairs of the house until a new lift is put in.
“I’ve left the Christmas decorating up to my kids,” she said, so daughter McKenna, 17, and son Brody, 14, will be making the place look festive.
People have been generous.
They need a lift in the house, and Western Elevator has given them a break of about $5,000 on that project, and Belfor Restoration is helping with the concrete work.
So far their Gofundme page is at $97,000 out of a $150,000 goal, and they have been overwhelmed by the generosity of their friends and neighbours in Pitt Meadows.
But that money will be used quickly – one bebionic hand alone costs approximately $35,000, and it is one of the cheaper prosthetics. She has two more models to try out. A prosthetic leg with the knee starts at $70,000. Then there was the cost of her electric wheelchair, and a van that is wheelchair accessible.
They don’t know how much will be paid through medical coverage or insurance.
“It’s not a perfect system when you’re going through this,” said Shawn.
He cuts costs where he can. A magnetic cell phone holder for her wheelchair was over $100, so he looked up the design and made one that looks store-bought.
He had worried the family would lose the house, but that is no longer a concern thanks to donations.
“It’s an incredible feeling to be able to get her what she needs,” he said.
People know her story. They were out shopping, and stopped by a person who asked, “Are you Danielle?”
She had seen the story and donated. The two women had a cry together in the store.
“I was happy to meet her,” said Danielle. “Some people are anonymous donors, and you can’t even thank them.”
Danielle she had a lot of work to regain more independence. She thought she would walk out of hospital on new legs, but it will be some time before she is able to do that.
“There’s a lot of work ahead, but it doesn’t matter. It’s so hard to be away from here,” she said. “My daughter is graduating, and we need to go get grad dresses.”