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Camden New Journal - by CHARLOTTE CHAMBERS
Published: 27 March 2008

Ergun Ahmed with his wife Terujo and daughters Yuhmi, 8, and Reina, 4
‘When I woke up I had no legs.’ The plight of patient who thought he had gone down with flu

Father-of-two struck by septicaemia had to learn how to walk again

HIS children sit on his knee, giggle, look up and call him “Robot Dad”.
It’s an affectionate rather than cruel nickname, which Ergun Ahmed can’t help but laugh along with.
And if anybody de­serves a smile once in a while, it is the father-of-two who went into the Royal Free feeling weak from a fever and came out without any legs.
Mr Ahmed never thought winter flu could feel so bad when he was sent to the Hampstead hospital in December 2006 feeling under the weather and with a strange tingling running down his legs. If only it had been flu.
Just 15 days later, he woke from a medically- induced coma, looked down at where his legs should have been and could have been forgiven for thinking he was in the middle of a terrible nightmare.
“When I woke up, I had no legs,” he said, recalling the moment he realised they had been amputated. While he had been unconscious, med­ics had diagnosed a potentially deadly strain of blood poisoning caused by meningitis.
Mr Ahmed added: “It took just a couple of days. I began to feel under the weather and thought I’d come down with flu.
“Towards the second evening I started feeling a tingling sensation in my feet and had purple blotches on my stomach – that’s what really worried my wife. Basically, my legs had started to die. With hindsight I was surprised my hands had stayed alive.”
It is amazing that, after a remarkable fight against the odds, he is able to play badminton again – with the help of prosthetic limbs.
Mr Ahmed was 40 at the time, a fit and active father-of-two who probably spent a bit more time at work as production manager than he should.
The “flu” that he thought he had been trying to ward off turned out to be something far more serious. Mr Ahmed had contracted meningococcal septicaemia, a form of meningitis that can kill without treatment.
Even hardened medics were surprised by how badly it had taken hold of his body. One of the reasons this unforgiving condition is so dangerous is that it’s so difficult to predict who could succumb to it.
Almost overnight, it ripped apart his life. He had gone from skipping his older daughter’s nativity play one night because he felt under the weather to being permanently disabled the next.
Mr Ahmed, speaking for the first time about his battle, said: “I went black and purple within an hour of going to hospital as the septicaemia covered my whole body. Doctors told my wife they had never seen a case so bad.”
Mr Ahmed, who just days earlier had been fitting PA systems and lighting rigs, was just hours from death. His blood, which had been poisoned by the infection, stopped flowing to his body’s extremities and his internal organs started to shut down.
Although the dangers of meningitis and septicaemia are now well known, the randomness of its victims still baffles doctors. While around 80 per cent of the population can carry it or contract it, fewer than 2,000 cases a year are reported. Mr Ahmed could not have foreseen how he would be struck down and how it would change his life forever.
Statistics are of little comfort to Mr Ahmed, who now lives with his wife Terujo and daughters Yuhmi, 8, and Reina, 4, in a ground-floor flat in South End Green, Hampstead.
But he bravely recognises that the tragic turn of events has had a silver lining.
“It’s definitely brought me closer to my family,” he said. “I was working quite a lot and I was hardly ever at home. Now I get to see my kids grow up.”
After the shock of discovering his legs had been amputated, things grew worse. He said: “I remember puking blood and telling my wife I was going to die. I was hallucinating. It was anything from the nurses being vampires to thinking I’d been brought to hospital for someone to do experiments on me.”
But if his hospital stay was nightmarish, the real hell of rehabilitation was still around the corner. Not only did Mr Ahmed have to relearn how to walk with prosthetic limbs – with the help of the Royal Free’s amputee physiotherapist Jo Buckley – but he would also have to deal with the depression that engulfed him.
“Life is getting a bit more stable,” he said. “I had been very depressed but I have changed. Everything’s a bit more of a challenge and I take more notice of disabled people – I really admire them.
“I didn’t realise how the simplest things like getting on pavements, buses and up train stations could be so difficult. But the kids love my legs – in the summer in a pair of shorts they surround you and say: ‘He’s a robot!’”
In some ways the appalling experience was even harder on Mrs Ahmed. For the first three weeks of her husband’s hospital stay doctors warned her he was ever more likely to die.
She said: “I can’t remember how I coped. Every day was hard. I never felt like that in my life. But I kept talking to him, saying: ‘If you don’t make it I’ll be angry.’ Now he’s progressed so well and can walk, but at the time we couldn’t see how long it would take.”
Her husband added: “The physio at the Royal Free was great. She was brilliant. She really helped me out and drove me into a regime of exercise and balance techniques.”
Mr Ahmed, who now plays badminton with a gold medalist and is training for a championship, wants to help others facing a similar challenge.
He said: “People say your life begins at 40. For me, it certainly changed, from one extreme to another. I want to give others in my situation inspiration to get up and believe anything is possible.”

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