How Carol Decker Overcame Sepsis That Left Her Blind and Without Legs: 'I Choose to Be Whole'

Carol Decker survived sepsis and three amputations. She recounts her journey in "Unshattered: Overcoming Tragedy and Choosing a Beautiful Life."

The last time Carol Decker saw her husband's face, she was being rushed into an emergency operating room, where, at 33 weeks pregnant, she was about to have her baby cut from her womb. 

She had no idea why she felt such terrible pain or why the hospital staff was in such a chaotic rush to get her child out of her body.

Safiya, her second daughter, was delivered seven weeks early.

Twenty days later, Decker was blind. Both of her feet had been amputated. Her left hand was gone, as was her right ring finger. She had suffered sepsis, a deadly blood infection, and had been in a drug-induced coma. 

Doctors were forced to amputate after her limbs began dying off because the infection had sent her blood pressure plummeting, causing extremely poor circulation. Her eyesight was gone thanks to a damaged optic nerve. A doctor told her to think of her eyes as a video camera that worked, but the electrical cord did not.  

"I had no idea that I was that sick," she told Then came another complication. Her blood wasn't clotting properly, forcing her to undergo "grueling, horrific" grafts that peeled great stretches of skin from her back for transplanting onto her hips. 

That was 10 years ago. She was at death's door several times. When she wasn't there, her troubled mind and soul wished she could just step through that portal and be done with the agony, the pain, the depression and the unrelenting sorrow of losing so much of herself.

But she did not take that path. She dug deep and found the will, and the faith, to go on. She has written a new book. In it, she states, "Despite all that has happened, I choose to stand. I choose to be whole, for mine is a life unshattered."

That word also appears in the title of her memoir. "Unshattered: Overcoming Tragedy and Choosing a Beautiful Life" has just been published.

"I have a quote in my book that says, 'Life is a gift. If you don't open it, you'll never experience the beauty inside.' In the beginning, it was really hard. Everything was just really difficult. I would cry all the time and I worked with a psych therapist for two years, once a week."

She learned, she said, to let go of fear. "You can get over things if you can get over the fear of it first."

She also learned that she would walk again, with the help of prosthetics. With the new technology of Siri, she only had to ask for help. 

"Siri is my best friend," Decker said. "She helps me have my link to the real world." Decker dictates and hears emails and texts through the "My Notes" app. She has outfitted her home so that she can shower, do laundry and perform other household tasks without being able to see. "Everything's organized in my house and if you touch my stuff, you're in big trouble," she said jokingly.

Bit by bit, and step by prosthetic step, she walked back into her life, rebuilding it as she went and finding herself in the unlikely position of being a motivational speaker in high demand, and now, the author of a book.

"It just sort of happened," she said. "Someone asked me if I would come and share my story at an event at my church with young women and their mothers. The title of of the talk was 'I Can Do Hard Things.' And I said, 'Sure, I would love to.'''

As she helped others to heal, she healed as well. "It was like therapy for me. And to be able to turn something bad that happened to me into something good ... really just made a difference in my life."

Her firstborn, Chloe, was 18 months old when Decker was rushed to the hospital. When Decker came home, Chloe was terrified of her, she said. It took time and a great deal of patience to convince the child that even though mommy was missing some pieces, she was still the same inside.

Decker's newest daughter was a squirming infant and the simple act of holding her sent terrible pain through the hypersensitive skin that covered her amputation sites. 

But she didn't want her disabilities to interfere with her children or her husband, Scott, a dentist who had just started a new practice.

"Scott said, 'We're going to get you through this,' and for the next few days I really pretty much was having wound dressing changes that lasted two hours every day," she said. 

Decker was in a dark place. Her family, and residents of Enumclaw, Wash., where she lives, simply wrapped their arms around her and didn't let go. 

Five thousand people attended a fundraising rally for her. "At first I didn't want to go," she said. "But I knew it was the right thing to do. So they wheeled me in my wheelchair, with my family and all 5,000 people stood up and clapped."

Decker bawled like a baby.

"I can't believe that complete strangers are there supporting me and my family," she said she remembers thinking.

The event raised $60,000. She spent a month in a rehabilitation facility, relearning to walk. 

Every day since then, Decker has set goals for herself. One was she wanted to learn to ski again, which she did, going a snow trip with her family.

"I had the choice. And everyone has that choice," she said. "Either you give up or pick up. And I could’ve done either and no one would’ve ever been mad at me for wanting to live in bed for the rest of my life but  I wanted to choose to be happy."