A woman who had two have all ten toes amputated after developed sepsis from a strep throat infection is now defying the odds by preparing to run a marathon.
Maria Papalia-Meier, 46, from Plainville, Massachusetts, fell ill in 2014, fell seriously ill in 2014, when she developed a variety of terrifying symptoms, including body rashes, aches, fever, hallucinations and shortness of breath.
Maria thought she had the flu but rushed herself to the hospital to get medical attention as her condition worsened.
Overcoming the odds: Maria Papalia-Meier, 46, from Massachusetts, had to have all ten of her toes amputated in 2014 – but she hasn’t let that stop her from taking up running
Sickness: In 2014, Maria fell seriously ill and went to the hospital – thinking she had a bad flu, however doctors quickly realized it was something far worse
Treatment: Doctors diagnosed Maria with sepsis that was caused by a strep throat infection. She had to be put into a medically-induced coma when her organs started failing
On June 18, 2014, Maria was diagnosed with sepsis and later went into septic shock.
Her organs begin to fail and doctors placed her in a medically induced coma.
Maria’s toes begin to turn black due to the lack of blood flow caused by the pressor medication she was taking.
Doctors were then forced to amputate all ten of her toes.
She said: ‘I developed a rash on my stomach and arms after contracting a strep throat infection.
‘Then I started to experience body aches, fever, darkened urine, hallucinations and shortness of breath.
‘I thought I had the flu and went to the hospital thinking I needed IV fluids.
‘I had no idea I was close to death.
‘I went into septic shock and all my organs failed. I coded twice and was in a medically induced coma for two weeks. I was at the hospital and rehab center for a little over seven weeks.
Shock: ‘I thought I had the flu and went to the hospital thinking I needed IV fluids,’ Maria said. ‘I had no idea I was close to death’
Painful: Maria’s toes started going black as a result of the sepsis, and doctors were forced to amputate them in order to stop the infection from spreading
New normal: Despite being left with no toes, Maria decided to take up running in a bid to enjoy a healthier lifestyle
‘I came home on August 8 and my toes were amputated the week before Halloween.’
Since her near-death experience, Maria has made it a life journey to educate people about the signs and symptoms of sepsis.
She is now training to run the Chicago 2020 marathon, which spans over 26.2 miles, despite her disability.
Maria has since published her book, I Am A Runner: The Memoirs of a Sepsis Survivor detailing her experiences from running marathons to battling sepsis.
She said: ‘I have worked really hard to let people know about sepsis and signs and symptoms.
‘I no longer have the career I had; I am just working part-time now but by choice.
‘This has allowed me to live my best life and continue to pursue my dreams of becoming a motivational speaker and a marathon runner.
‘I have published a book and plan on detailing my road to the marathon. I am working on making “thetoelessrunner” a brand.
On a roll! Since her near-death experience, Maria has made it a life journey to educate people about the signs and symptoms of sepsis – while proving that her disability won’t get her down
Next up! Maria is planning to run the Chicago marathon – which spans more than 26.2 miles
Adjustment: It took years for Maria, who is pictured with her husband, years to get used to running without any toes, and she still experiences painful swelling in the summer
‘My vision is to help people see their potential and reach their goals no matter what obstacles they think will stand in their way.
‘Being healthy is so important. I would like to create a group where families can join and motivate each other to live a healthier lifestyle.’
It took years for Maria to adapt to running without toes.
Maria wears normal running shoes but she often experiences pain and swelling in her feet when running during hot summer months.
She has since taken up Bikram Yoga, which she said has helped with getting her balance back and allowing her to stabilize herself when running.
Maria said: ‘It took years to get where I am now. I would say I have to focus on my feet when I run. I run in a shoe with a low foot drop.
‘It allows me to feel the ground so I know my foot is striking in the right spot and I am not rolling my foot.
‘I do get nerve pain and swelling when I run in the summer. I am careful not to push myself too much to avoid blisters.
Practice: In order to improve her balance, Maria took up Bikram Yoga
Easy does it: ‘I do get nerve pain and swelling when I run in the summer. I am careful not to push myself too much to avoid blisters,’ she explained
Sharing is caring: Although her family and friends were incredibly helpful and supportive, Maria says the most useful resource during her recovery was speaking with other survivors
‘I wear TOPO UltraFly sneakers. They have a wide toe base and the low foot drop. They have been discontinued so the hunt for a new shoe will start soon. I also wear gripper socks to keep my foot from sliding in my shoe.
‘When I first started running or walking, I had an orthopedic that I wore in my shoe.
‘It wasn’t until I went to the Running Clinic in Cambridge that I started wearing shoes without the orthopedic.
‘Their thinking was it was better for me to feel the ground when running or walking to prevent foot rolls.
When I first started walking after my amputations, I would walk on the sides of my feet to help with balance.
‘I have to say hot yoga, also known as Bikram Yoga, has helped me get my balance back.’
In a few words of advice to sepsis survivors and those who are going through treatment, Maria added: ‘The online groups are fantastic.
‘As much as your friends and family want to help you, they can’t.
Lean on me: ‘There are so many things [that family and friends] will not be able to understand. The best people to help you are ones that have been through it,’ she explained
Motivation: ‘My vision is to help people see their potential and reach their goals no matter what obstacles they think will stand in their way,’ Maria explained
Speaking out: Maria has since published her book, I Am A Runner: The Memoirs of a Sepsis Survivor detailing her experiences from running marathons to battling sepsis
‘There are so many things they will not be able to understand. The best people to help you are ones that have been through it.
‘We all survived for a reason. What we went through sucks but there is a positive in that we lived and we can share and help spread awareness.
‘I have a quote, which is, “Celebrate the little victories in life as those can lead to the biggest changes.”
‘I would be upset that I was not running but I had to look at what I was doing.
‘I was washing my hair, I started walking and I was becoming more and more independent.
‘When I focused on the progress and not on what I couldn’t do, my attitude changed.
‘I had a big goal in mind which was it run again but I had to start small and reach my little goals.
‘And little by little, I reached the big one.’