An illness that started as a simple cold led to a rare quadruple amputation for a Utah mother of six, who now faces a challenging recovery but is hopeful that she can still live a full life without her hands and feet.
“I’ve always been a positive person, so I’m trying to stay that way,” Tiffany King, 38, of Springville, Utah, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “Of course, there are days when I ask, ‘God, why did this happen to me?’ But I’m so thankful to be alive and to have a future with my family.”
“There are lots of reasons why I shouldn’t be here,” she adds, “but I am. So I’m going to make the very best of the situation, work hard and tackle every difficult task the best that I can for the people I love.”
It was mid-January when Tiffany, who worked as a dental lab technician, caught a cold and woke up late one night with trouble breathing. Her fiancé, Moale Fonohema, 37, (the pair plan to get married this fall) rushed her to an all-night clinic, and she was then sent by ambulance to a hospital in Provo.
From there, things went from bad to worse.
“She developed bacterial and viral pneumonia,” Tiffany’s niece, Rielly Fonohema, 19, tells PEOPLE, “and her liver and kidneys started failing. Then at the end of January, she got sepsis — a deadly blood infection — and her chance of living was lowered to 15 percent. Doctors said that we should start making (funeral) arrangements.”
Family members and friends, though, weren’t ready to give up — especially Tiffany’s fiancé, who she’d reconnected with four years ago, more than two decades after they’d met in junior high.
Moale, who works for a stained glass business, stayed by Tiffany’s side every night, telling her that she would pull through and that she had much to live for.
“It was scary,” he tells PEOPLE, “but I knew that she could get through it. She’s a tough person and I wasn’t about to give up on her. To be honest, we have wedding plans and I knew that we both wanted more than anything to see them happen.”
“Moe,” as he’s known to family (he has two children from a previous marriage, Tiffany has three and they adopted one together), was there to break the news to Tiffany that she needed to have all of her limbs amputated, once she’d come out of a coma in the hospital. To save her life, doctors had put on her Levophed — a drug that regulates blood pressure, diverting blood from the body’s limbs to major organs.
“When he told me that the lack of blood flow to my arms and legs meant that a quadruple amputation was necessary in order for me to live, I didn’t hesitate to say, ‘Let’s do it,’ ” Tiffany tells PEOPLE.
“I’m an active person — I love to turn up the music around the house and dance, and I enjoy snowboarding and horses,” she says. “So sure, it was shocking to hear that I had to lose my arms and legs, but I know that we’ll figure it out. I have a lot of people cheering me on.”
While she’s recovering in the hospital over the next month, Tiffany’s friends and family hope to make her home accessible and comfortable as she learns through physical therapy how to accomplish simple tasks using her mouth, and at some point, prosthetics.
Because her health insurance won’t cover the $225,000 cost of prosthetic arms and legs, a GoFundMe account has been set up, with almost $60,000 donated so far.
“If I can get enough to pay for those prosthetics, I’m going to work very hard every single day so that I can walk again,” Tiffany tells PEOPLE, “and the first thing I want to do is walk down the aisle to marry Moe. That’s my biggest dream now, and I’d love for it to come true this fall.”
Adds Moe: “With arms and legs or without them, I’m here for her — I love her. She was worried how I’d feel about her after the amputation, but nothing has changed. ‘You’re my rock,’ I told her. ‘And I’ll be your hands and feet.’ “