CTX woman who lost limbs due to flu shares story of survival

Posted at 8:31 PM, Feb 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-27 18:45:45-05

As a mother, Bonnie Orr knows all about hard work

She's been chasing her kids around for decades, giving them her undivided attention. Now the tables have turned.

"Every time I opened my eyes, my boys were there," Bonnie said. "One or the other or all of them. Just sitting watching, maybe channel surfing, but every time I opened my eyes my boys and my husband were there.”

Bonnie never expected something as common as the flu to put her on the brink of death. She believes she caught it after nursing one of her son's back to health. 

"Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve, I was really feeling bad. Really feeling bad,” Bonnie said.

Her last memory was wishing her husband, Daniel, a "Happy New Year" before being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.

“My hands were black and they had oxygen on me," Bonnie said. "I didn’t understand.”

“They were trying to put an oxygen mask on her. I guess whenever people do that to her she feels claustrophobic," said Robert Orr, Bonnie's Son. "She was panicking, she didn’t want to be there. So they sedated her and she was better after that.”

Bonnie was in a coma for 30 days, a whole month of her life lost, before suddenly waking up in the middle of a nightmare.

“They asked my permission to cut my extremities off," Bonnie said. "As my husband said, life or limb. I chose life and my limbs are gone.”

Her flu had led to septic shock and then pneumonia. Bonnie said a mixture of symptoms and medication caused the oxygen to stop flowing to her limbs.

“Her face was swollen, her neck was swollen," Joshua Orr, Bonnie's son. "She was losing weight because she wasn’t getting fed at the time. I mean, they had a feeding tube in her, but it wasn’t holding up.”

Once Bonnie realized she wasn't dreaming, her reaction to this new reality frightened her.

“I’m a freak and I’m useless. What good am I to my boys?" Bonnie said. "And for a moment, just a moment, I thought it would be better if I was not here."

At that instant, Bonnie changed her attitude, knowing it would take a whole lot more to permanently wipe away her smile.

“If you don’t laugh you’ll cry and I have to laugh and be a jokester," Bonnie said. "That’s how I get through things.”

Now her outlook on life is inspiring others. She's become fast friends with her therapists at Marlandwood East Rehab in Temple.

“She’s very encouraging. She’s always looking for the positive in anyone and everyone," said Linda Shambee, Bonnie's therapist. "Her sense of humor is just gravitating. You know, you just gravitate to her, she’s like a magnet. You just want to take her and hug her and squeeze her.”

“As soon as I first laid eyes on her in our first session together, I knew, I knew she was under my wing," said Lorrie Hoffman, Bonnie's therapist. "I turned and I looked at my team and I said ‘you know we’ve adopted her.’”

For nearly three weeks, this trio has spent each day together working through different emotional and physical challenges.

“When I’m down, they lift me up," Bonnie said. "They won’t let me and they do this with me. They sweat it out with me.”

“My first question was, is she a soldier? Because I was thinking she must have returned from war," Hoffman said. "I mean, how many other people have three limbs removed at once?”

What others may see as a tragedy, Bonnie is calling a new lease on life. She's decided to use her experience to guide others going through the same transition.

“Now I have a purpose, because before my boys got married or they moved off and I had nothing to do," Bonnie said. "Now I have a purpose and it’s going to be great. I’m going to do great things and help people.”

Orr's boys have always looked up to her. Now, grown men, they're even more confident their Super Mom will continue to persevere.

“All the time. Her and my dad. They’re the only ones that inspire me at all really," Joshua said. "My role models.”

“I’m more positive about how my things are going, that I’m going to have her in my life,” Robert said.

Proving that a mothers strength knows no bounds.

"I think that if you have a bad attitude, that you’re not going to get anywhere. And I’m going to go far," said Bonnie.

She's now waiting for her prosthetics to come in the mail and expects to go home in the new few weeks. 

Bonnie said her best friend, Cindy Gillman and sister Mary Lou Carpenter, helped to keep her spirits high while she was in the hospital. Her oldest son, James Orr, also stayed by her side throughout the experience. She credits her progress and positivity to her support system. 

Bonnie hopes other's learn from her experience and take the flu seriously. She suggests going to the doctor immediately, even if you're feeling just a little under the weather. 

More than 4,000 Texans have died from flu-related illnesses this season, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. 

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