A DAD who lost his lips and all four of his limbs to a flesh-eating bug "wouldn't take them back" after achieving his dream.
Brave Alex Lewis, 39, had skin from his shoulder grafted around his mouth after he lost part of his face because of a vicious flesh-eating infection, and had lips tattooed onto the skin.
Alex, from Stockbridge in Hampshire, underwent a world-first operation and medical tattooing to repair his face.
The 39-year-old, who is a designer and had to learn to use prosthesis, has since found a way to successfully communicate his design ideas via an iPad.
'BLESSING MORE THAN CURSE'
The dad-of-one has since visualised the interior of a new hotel in Stockbridge, called The Grosvenor - and says he wouldn't change anything that has happened to him for the world.
He told Femail: "The truth is that if you offered me my legs, arms and face back I wouldn't take them.
"This whole process has been a blessing more than curse.
"I have been involved in interior design projects up and down the country.
"I have discovered I enjoy public speaking and have been fortunate enough to have been asked to speak around the world on topics ranging from design, engineering and technology to disability, inclusion, motivation and resilience."
The truth is that if you offered me my legs, arms and face back I wouldn't take them. This whole process has been a blessing more than curseAlex Lewis
Alex's ordeal began in November 2013 when he first thought he just had the "man flu", but just five weeks later he was in a coma as his major organs began to shut down.
He had contracted Strep A, which then terrifyingly developed into Strep A toxic shock syndrome, septicaemia and necrotising fasciitis - he had just a three per cent chance of survival.
What is sepsis?
The condition is always triggered by an infection.
Most often the culprit is an infection we all recognise - pneumonia, urinary infections (UTIs), skin infections, including cellulitis, and infections in the stomach, for example appendicitis.
Typically, when a person suffers a minor cut, the area surrounding the wound will become red, swollen and warm to touch.
This is evidence the body's immune system has kicked into action, releasing white blood cells to the site of the injury to kill off the bacteria causing the infection.
The white blood cells and platelets form blood clots in the tissues around the cut.
Blood vessels swell to allow more blood to flow, and they become leaky, allowing infection-fighting cells to get out of the blood and into the tissues where they are needed.
This causes inflammation, which appears to us as the red, warm swelling.
When sepsis happens, this system goes into overdrive.
The inflammation that is typically seen just around the minor cut, spreads through the body, affecting healthy tissue and organs.
The immune system - the body's defence mechanism - overreacts and the result is it attacks the body.
It can lead to organ failure and septic shock, which can prove fatal.
Bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites can all trigger sepsis - though the most dangerous culprit is bacteria.
In developing nations, the condition remains a leading cause of death.
Known by its colloquial name "blood poisoning", sepsis is also often referred to as a "flesh-eating disease".
After more than six months in hospital and 18 operations Alex, from Over Wallop in Hampshire, began the long road to recovery. He is the first person to ever have the procedure done.
ACHIEVED HIS DREAM
He added: "I started working on my iPad in hospital as Lucy had expanded The Greyhound (the Grosvenor's sister hotel) to add on three more en-suite bedrooms in the cottage next door.
"This really helped me as it became clear I could continue to work even without my limbs and it gave me something to focus on other than the reality of my condition.
"The majority of my work for The Grosvenor is still carried out on an Apple iPad Pro from mood boards to design layout.
"Site meetings can be tricky but I can certainly tackle a flight of stairs on a building site."
Who is most at risk from sepsis?
Sepsis is a condition that fails to discriminate - it can affect old and young, those who lead healthy lives and those who don't.
As with many life-threatening illnesses, the most vulnerable are newborns, young children and the elderly, as well as anyone with a weakened immune system.
Though it can affect us all, men are more susceptible than women, black people are more at risk than white, and the very young and very old are more likely to be affected than any other age group.
Those people battling diabetes, Aids, kidney or liver disease are also at greater risk due to their weakened immune systems.
And pregnant women and people who have suffered severe burns or physical injury are more likely to fall victim to the life-threatening condition.
If you, a loved one, or in the case of medical professionals their patient, feels "severely sick", doesn't appear to be themselves and shows any of the following symptoms, sepsis should be suspected:
Salisbury-based plastic surgeon Alexandra Crick was able to recreate Alex's lips using skin from his shoulder - the only skin left available for grafts.
"Having my bottom and top lip done at the same time like this was a world first," Alex said.
"It’s one piece of skin, and it was like if you imagine placing a bag in your mouth and then sewing around the edges."
It took six operations for Alex to get his lips back and now his skin grafts have reduced in size and blended into his cheeks and chin.
"Facial surgery is by far the most dramatic type of surgery you can go through; I remember waking up I was mortified. I didn’t sleep for seven days after the surgery," he added.
"It’s incredible that all the nerves and the muscles have regrown and they function as normal lips."
Six years on from his ordeal, Alex has now become a campaigner for amputees, and said that while he had seen the "very best" of the NHS during his treatment, more needed to be done to help people in aftercare.
Alex had been given just three per cent survival after developing septicaemia and toxic shock syndrome.
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Miraculously Alex pulled through but surgeons had to cut off his limbs as his flesh had begun to rot.
They also took muscle from his back to rebuild his dead right arm in a series of gruelling operations.
He had to learn how to walk again with two prosthetic legs.
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