Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Strong, Resilient, And A Survivor Shell Wardrope’s Life After Losing Her Leg

When local mum, Shell Wardrope, took a stumble on her wet driveway in May this year she didn’t think the innocent fall would change the trajectory of her life forever. The rain had been pouring for some time and she raced outside to call her son in for dinner, tripping forward and landing straight on her knee. Within seconds she could see a large gash form and after examining the wound, her and her husband Ben decided to go to the local hospital where they received stitches for the injury and returned home later that evening.

Heading to sleep that night, the couple thought Shell had a simple injury that would heal gradually over time. This was until the early hours of the morning when she woke up with a throbbing pain in her leg. After inspecting her leg again they could see it was extremely swollen so they drove to the hospital to have it checked out.

This fast thinking could have saved her life.

Within minutes of arriving at the hospital, Shell’s health deteriorated quickly and before long she lost consciousness. Panicked and distraught, Ben was by her side when he was told that she had contracted a soil-borne bacterial infection and only had a 2% chance of survival.

Ben and Shell believe the soil-borne infection was caused by a common algae that can be found almost anywhere. Unfortunately for Shell, the gash on her knee allowed this usually harmless algae to enter her bloodstream. The algae then reacted with the white blood cells and created a flesh-eating bacteria which spread rapidly up her leg.

The medical team at Proserpine Hospital did everything they could to stop the spread of the infection which was progressing further up her leg by the minute. Shell was quickly transferred to Mackay Base Hospital where they determined they would need to remove her limb. This was done in sections, each time they hoped to stop the infection and save as much of her leg as possible.  

Eventually the infection did stop spreading, but by this stage Shell’s leg had been amputated from below the hip.

But she still was alive.

For the next four days, her prognosis remained at 2% and Ben prayed she would pull though, determined that she would continue the life they had created together.

Several days later, when he was at his most desperate Ben took to social media and shared their plight with the community, pleading with everyone to help bring her back.

“I put that text up to the community and it blew up!” he explained.

“Through everyone’s prayer over that night, she dramatically changed.”

Shell had been in a coma for 13 days and had no idea her right leg was no longer there when she woke.

During her time on life support she remembers being plagued by nightmares which included being plunged into a shark tank where her leg was bitten off. Waking up and seeing Ben and their son Ollie was all she could have dreamed of and, despite the adjustment, Shell said she is incredibly grateful.

“They tried to save as much of my leg as they could, but it kept getting higher,” explained Shell.

“They did an amazing job and what they did saved my life, for which I am eternally grateful.”

“It’s weird because I can’t counterbalance, I can’t just sit up and I often get phantom leg pain, that’s one of the hardest things which is strange because my leg is not even there,” she shared.

Ben said Shell is a “remarkable healer”.

“She’s on pretty much no pain medication whatsoever,” he explained.

“We’re pretty spiritual people and believe in holistic medicine and eating lots of natural foods which has been a big part of her healing, and she is feeling unbelievably well.”

Shell left hospital after just seven weeks. The same injury would take another patient an average of three months. This speedy recovery, however, has not worked in her favour. Her swift departure meant that adequate after-care has not yet been organised and they are waiting on NDIS to provide practical assistance. It’s a long road ahead for the family and they are having to consider what shape this new life will take.

At this stage Shell is navigating life on a wheelchair they are leasing but she is hoping to get a prosthetic leg one day, this however, costs over $100K.

The family has launched a GoFundMe page where the community can help towards aftercare necessities and support for the family while Ben is unable to work due to taking care of Shell.

In a few months’ time, they are looking forward to hosting a gathering where they want to meet with the community to say thank you for all the support. In the meantime, they wish to thank everyone who has supported them so far, every gesture has meant so much to them.

Ben, Shell Wardrope and their son Ollie. Photo credit: Rachael Smith

In other news