Krystina Pacheco, 29, gave birth to her daughter, Amelia, in a routine Cesarean section. Nothing of note happened during the birth; the nightmare began when the Pachecos brought Amelia home two days later. Krystina came down with a fever and began vomiting and experiencing shortness of breath. She ended up back in the hospital where the doctors diagnosed her with septic shock. They managed to save her life but the treatments cut off circulation to Krystina’s hands and feet, so they had to amputate them.
Septic shock is an extremely dangerous condition where the body goes into hyperdrive to fight an infection. “I just remember I couldn’t breathe anymore and I couldn’t see anymore and I just started slowly fading out,” Pacheco said. “My husband, I could just hear him saying, ‘Please come back to us, please, your babies need you. I need you. I need you to be here and help me with our babies,’ and that’s the last thing I remember.”
She survived the terrifying ordeal but her hands and feet did not. “My hands and feet were black. They looked like a person who had gotten frostbite,” Pacheco explained. She added that the medical staff had attempted everything they could to avoid this side effect. “I was just breaking down and being absolutely crushed. And crying with my family, crying with Jacob, and just being sad that my life would no longer be the same.” 
Septic Shock After Delivery
Two days after giving birth, Pacheco was already feeling feverish as she was discharged from the hospital. She assumed it was part of the recovery process and a nurse gave her ibuprofen. But as her symptoms progressed she went to a doctor who sent her to an emergency room where she was airlifted to a hospital in San Antonio.
Sepsis can occur during pregnancy and after delivery. It’s a severe reaction to an infection in the body like influenza, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections. Maternal sepsis is most commonly caused by bacteria like E. coli, but they can also occur after Cesarean sections since all surgeries have the risk of sepsis. Unfortunately, it can be hard to diagnose sepsis after giving birth because its symptoms look similar to common reactions like a light-headedness.  Symptoms of sepsis include high fever or chills, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and intense pain in the body. When sepsis evolves into septic shock, the symptoms can turn into dizziness, acute confusion, and severe breathing problems. At this point, the infection can harm organs and potentially lead to stroke, respiratory or heart failure, and impairment to other organs. 
For Pacheco, her sepsis shock was already affecting her lungs, kidneys, and heart. Pacheco’s husband Jacob explained that doctors put her on dialysis for her kidneys and on an ECMO machine, which essentially takes over the function of the lungs and heart to allow them to rest and heal. “They didn’t want to tell us how close she was [to death] but you could see it in their faces every time I asked,” Jacob Pacheco said. He added that doctors had initially given his wife a 20% survival rate. “It was scary.”
“What happened to me? Did I almost die?”
Family and friends came together to support them as Krystina recovered from septic shock. They’d often come to help take care of their kids in the hospital’s lobby. Jacob was there every day to take care of Krystina. For two weeks, he and Krystina’s parents took turns staying by her side. But slowly, she began to recover. Soon, the doctors were able to remove the breathing tube, allowing her to talk for the first time. “The first thing she said to me was, ‘What happened to me? Did I almost die?,’” Jacob Pacheco said. “ And we had a moment of tears — tears of sadness, tears of joy, just a bunch of emotions coming over us.”
But the worst was far from over. At this point, doctors told Krystina about her upcoming amputations. Poor circulation is a risk factor for an ECMO machine, and this was unfortunately the case for her. The surgeries included amputating her arms from below her elbow and the legs from below her knees, as well as countless skin grafts.
“Every day I woke up and thought about my babies and every time I went into a surgery, my thought was, I have to get home to be with my babies, so if that means going through one more surgery, then ultimately I have to go through another surgery,” she said. “They were my number one motivation, hands down.”
After three months in the hospital, Krystina was discharged and moved into a rehabilitation center called TIRR Memorial Hermann. There, her wounds continued to recover and she began to rebuild her strength and learn how to function with her new condition. “Any task, any exercise, I tried it and I gave it my 100%,” she said. “…I would self-talk to myself, like, ‘Come on. You’ve got this. Just get this,’ so I would push a little. I even surprised myself some of the time.”
Coming home and “being a little family again”
Finally, she was able to return home to Jacob, their son, Owen, and Amelia. Fortunately, Krystina suffered no medical complications from the ordeal aside from the amputations, and she continues to train to become stronger and more self-sufficient. Pacheco’s family, friends, and community came together to help them in every way they could, from babysitting, to fundraising for hospital costs as well as the money needed to make their home conducive for a wheelchair.
Pacheco plans to continue her work as a specialist in school psychology and wants to share her store to inspire people and raise awareness for people with limb differences like her. In the future, she’ll be able to use prosthetics. Despite all of the overwhelming hardships, Pacheco powered through it all but one of her biggest regrets is missing the first few months of Amelia’s life.
“That’s one of the things that does break my heart a little bit still and that I’m working through is that mommy guilt of not being able to be with my baby every day for her first three months of her life,” Krystina Pacheco said. “But you know, I’m home now and we’re making those adaptations as we go and we’re adjusting and being a little family again.” 
Keep Reading: Amazon Denied a Worker Pregnancy Accommodations. Then She Miscarried.
- “Texas Woman Loses Hands and Feet After Going into Septic Shock Following Birth.” People. Wendy Geller. February 23, 2023
- “Pregnancy and Childbirth.” Sepsis Alliance. March 3, 2023
- “Septic Shock.” Healthline. Shannon Johnson. October 21, 2021
- “Woman goes into septic shock after giving birth, has her feet and hands amputated.” GMA. Katie Kindelan. February 23, 2023