Case Study: Niamh Boyle (33) developed sepsis after childbirth

Co Louth woman lost toes and fingers through sepsis and now has a robotic hand

Niamh Boyle  (33) at the Sepsis conference in  Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Niamh Boyle (33) at the Sepsis conference in Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


Niamh Boyle is still adjusting to people’s stares. It is usually adults, she says looking down at her robotic hand; children are more inclined to ask questions.

The 33-year-old had her bionic limb made after developing sepsis in hospital last year following childbirth. It has been a long journey from life-threatening illness, to losing the fingers on her left hand and toes on her right foot, to trying to find €65,000 for a technological solution.

Today, Boyle carries it well, a confident, undefeated mother of four whose story is as much about recovery as it is illness.

“Three days after [giving birth] when I was at home I got a really bad pain in my elbow so myself and my husband went into A&E. We had never heard of sepsis; we just thought it was a pain in my elbow,” says the Co Louth woman. Her condition quickly deteriorated.

“It’s quite a vague recollection of the next couple of hours because I was getting very confused and disorientated.”

She had gone into septic shock and was put on a ventilator for nine days. Medication to prevent organ failure cut off the blood supply to her hands and feet.

“That’s what happened with the hand. I suppose a lot of people that this has happened to have lost two hands and two feet so there is always somebody worse than you,” she says.

Boyle spent eight weeks in hospital but the hard part, she says, was going home to look after four children with one hand. Eventually, Touch Bionics in Scotland provided the high-tech prosthetic which was paid for through crowd-funding.

Now she is acutely conscious of the importance of awareness. “Unless this has happened to you, you have never heard of it,” she says. “People are dying from this.”