A mum lost half her belly to sepsis and a flesh-eating bug after a horror C-section to deliver her second child.
Amy Hiner, 40, was given just hours to live after she suffered sepsis and necrotising fasciitis following the birth of her daughter Evie. Five days after the birth she developed a burning fever and agonising tummy pain, and was diagnosed with a Strep A infection caused by ‘retained products’ in her womb.
A specialist then recognised apparent ‘bruises’ on her lower tummy as patches of dead tissues and Ms Hiner was told the infection had developed into sepsis, and then the potentially fatal flesh eating bug necrotising fasciitis.
The 40-year-old described her symptoms as like “piranhas” in her tummy and was quickly rushed to hospital where she had the ‘retained products’ removed and the deadly infected flesh cut away.
She recalled: “The pain was so excruciating, like someone pouring battery acid in an open wound, even morphine didn’t touch it. I didn’t think I could go on. My whole life flashed before me. I just looked at my baby and knew she might never remember me. A few times in theatre they nearly lost me. At one point I had an out-of-body experience.”
The mum to son Charlie, 11, and Evie, now six, said surgeons first cut away the tissues on the lower right quarter of her belly and then the left side as they raced to stop the spread of the deadly bug. But the black patches remained on her tummy and her condition began to get worse, with doctors giving her just hours to live. She was rushed back to surgery for a second operation which saw involved cutting inches into her belly button down to her bikini line in a desperate attempt to save her life.
Ms Hiner, from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, was left with a gaping hole in her tummy, which was later packed with bandages and a little pump put in to take out fluid and dead tissue. She said she has no memories, even of having given birth, when she woke up in recovery.
The mum-of-two explained: “It just keeps spreading and you’re literally being eaten alive. It was extremely frightening. I could feel my body shutting down and it felt like I had piranhas in my tummy.
“It was awful and I couldn’t even hold my baby. I was so broken. It took all my energy just to breathe. I had to learn to walk again. When I tried to stand it was like my legs were having to support a lorry.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to do anything ever again. I cried and cried. I was heartbroken. It’s very rare to survive the deadly bug and more rare to still have all my limbs, so in some ways I’m very lucky.”
‘You can lose everything in a heartbeat’
Ms Hiner said she suffered night tremors and nightmares following the ordeal, and spent several months hiding away unable to think about anything else. She endured panic attacks before being diagnosed with PTSD and post-sepsis syndrome, and began three years of therapy.
Her wound took almost a year to heal and despite not qualifying for funding for reconstructive plastic surgery, she has now made a full recovery. She is now pursuing her dream of being an ice cream lady and does a spot of modelling to earn extra money.
After winning a modelling shoot in a Facebook competition in December, she started getting offers of work when she posted the pictures on Instagram. Since then she has filmed a couple of music videos in Manchester and a fashion shoot in London.
Ms Hinner said: “I’ve been left horribly disfigured, with my belly slanting and scarred. It needs a full tummy tuck. And because of severed nerves, I feel like I’m being electrocuted if I lie on my right side. But my mental health was the hardest part. I hated myself. I couldn’t look in the mirror or shower without crying. But I survived against all the odds and I’ve turned my life around.
“Now I’m happy and earning more for myself than I ever did working for someone else. My ice cream business is really hard graft, but I get such a buzz from the smiles on peoples’ faces. You just have to have the confidence to be what you want to be.
“We all want to see more normal shapes and sizes in modelling. Girls need to know you don’t need to be anything - but yourself. We all have good and bad angles. It’s about getting the right shots. I found happiness by accepting that I’m good enough as I am.”
Ms Hiner bought her ice cream van in July 2021 with a settlement she won from the hospital and has plans to buy a second van this summer, plus a warm-food trailer. She is also planning to fund a tummy tuck - which could cost up to £10,000 - through her business.
She added: “I realised you can lose everything in a heartbeat, and that gave me the push to follow my dreams. Maybe this is my happy ending. I wanted to own an ice cream van when I was little, but it felt like too much of a risk, so after everything I’d been through I thought I’d just go for it. I just love it! And it’s unusual because there aren’t many female ice cream vendors.
“Before I wouldn’t have even dreamed of being a model and you’d never have got photos of me in lingerie, sometimes I’m on my way to a photo shoot and I still can’t believe it’s me. You can see that my tummy has marks on it. I’m not perfect and I don’t believe anyone needs to be. I like a challenge and I’m an adaptable outgoing person. I think that’s helped me get through this.”