It was supposed to be a joyous and memorable time: Magdalena Malec was pregnant with her third child, and her other two were no doubt counting down the days until Christmas.
But by the time Christmas Day arrived in 2014, Malec had miscarried and been diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy.
Malec, who had been sent home days earlier with medication to ease her discomfort, was now in agony and back at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital, 35 miles from London, according to an account from her attorney.
She was rushed into an operating room to treat the ectopic pregnancy, a condition in which a fertilized egg becomes wedged inside one of the fallopian tubes.
But her condition didn't improve.
Malec, who had an elevated temperature before the operation, maintained a fever and developed a rash on her legs — symptoms her doctors attributed to an allergic reaction to antibiotics that she had been given.
They switched her medications, but the 31-year-old continued to get worse, her attorney said.
Malec went into septic shock, suffering kidney damage and blood clots throughout her body.
She would eventually lose both legs below the knee, her right arm below the elbow and the fingers on her left hand, said her attorney, David Thomas.
“Now my life is not a life, it is vegetation — a fight for life,” Malec said in a recent statement. “I am not the kind of person who likes to ask for help but now I am forced to because I meet obstacles everywhere I turn. Every failure brings on difficult situations at home, which is badly affecting my quality of life.”
She is now suing the hospital, accusing the staff there of failing to identify the warning signs of sepsis.
Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition in which the immune system's response to infection causes harm to the body's tissues and can lead to organ failure and, in some cases, death, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Symptoms include a body temperature that is too high or too low, as well as a high heart rate and respiratory rate. In severe cases, a patient may experience abdominal pain, trouble breathing or a sudden change in mental status, among other things.
As the condition worsens, according to the Mayo Clinic, “blood flow to vital organs, such as your brain, heart and kidneys, becomes impaired.” It can also “cause blood clots to form in your organs and in your arms, legs, fingers and toes — leading to varying degrees of organ failure and tissue death,” according to the clinic.
After surgery in December 2014, Malec's organs began to deteriorate, and she developed gangrene in her limbs, her attorney said.
She underwent dialysis and later a kidney transplant.
For months after the ordeal, Malec watched as her limbs turned dark and died, Thomas said.
“I was waiting for six months for the amputation of my limbs, with stinking and decaying legs and arms,” Malec told the South West News Service. “Nothing will restore what I had. I will never paint my nails again. I will never make a ponytail for my daughter.”
Malec also watched her relationship with her partner fall apart.
“I have been left on my own, starting with relearning how to walk, comb my hair, eat and brush my teeth,” she told the SWNS. “From the very beginning, everything was a big challenge for me. I would wake up and not know what I should do with myself. The only thing I dream about is decent living conditions with my disability and prostheses, which will allow me to live as normally as possible.”
“I am learning how to live with pain,” she added. “Going out and coping with the way people look at me is very difficult, and so is self-acceptance.”
A Luton and Dunstable University Hospital spokesman said Monday that the hospital extends its “sincere apologies” to Malec and acknowledges that “the care provided to her in 2014 fell below the standards that we strive for.”
Luton and Dunstable's National Health Service foundation trust “undertook an investigation to examine what improvements could be put in place, and learnings from this were shared in order to prevent similar cases,” according to a statement to The Washington Post. “Findings from the investigation were also shared with Ms Malec.”
It added: “We would like to assure Ms Malec, and all patients that we continue to work towards ensuring the quality of our services are maintained and improved where possible.”
Thomas, Malec's attorney, said in a statement that the problems could have been prevented.
“The catastrophic chain of events which led to Magdalena’s near death and horrendous injuries were completely avoidable had the hospital trust followed its own sepsis protocol,” he said on the website for Simpson Millar Solicitors. “There were a number of missed opportunities or 'red flags' which were not acted upon until it was too late.
“If diagnosed early enough, sepsis is easily treated with antibiotics but despite recent awareness campaigns, mistakes such as this are still happening. It’s tragic.”