As any new mum knows, looking after a baby takes plenty of energy. But for Tiffany Upton, even the simplest of tasks – such as changing a nappy – is a daunting challenge.
The 20-year-old has no use of her right arm and only partial use of her left arm following a horrifying accident at her workplace in which both her arms were almost shredded.
But this courageous young woman is now determined to care for her newborn baby just like any normal, loving mum.‘I’ve refused to have a carer come in for either myself or my baby,’ she says defiantly.
‘I decided on the day my little boy Billy was born that I’d look after him and bond with him as if I’m physically no different from anyone else.
‘But I have to admit, it sure isn’t easy,’ Tiffany says. ‘Have you ever tried changing a baby’s nappy one-handed? It’s tricky. But somehow, Billy and I are getting through it OK.’
She adds with a laugh: ‘At least the little guy hasn’t told me I’m doing anything wrong!’
The industrial accident that nearly cost Tiffany her life occurred on October 14, 2008, when she was working in a food-processing plant in Killarney, about a two-hour drive south-west of Brisbane. Part of her job was to clean food scraps from the blades of the plant’s huge electric drill. But on that tragic day something went terribly wrong.
‘I was just cleaning the blades of the drill as I normally do when the power is turned off,’ Tiffany explains. ‘And then – my worst nightmare – the power just came back on.
‘I have no idea how this could have happened – if someone accidentally turned on the switch or whatever. All I know is that this enormous drill had suddenly started whirring – with both my arms trapped inside it. My arms were being cut to pieces.’Despite the horror of her injuries, Tiffany was completely conscious throughout her terrifying ordeal and aware of everything happening to her.
‘I suppose I must have gone into shock instantly,’ she says.
‘And luckily so, because I guess this prevented me from feeling pain. And that doesn’t even bear thinking about. I can even recall saying to myself quite calmly: “Tiffany, this isn’t good. Not good at all!”’After paramedics were called they carefully extracted her from the drill, an intricate process that took 40 minutes, and a still conscious Tiffany was rushed
by a CareFlight helicopter to the Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital. Even surgeons, well used to dealing with serious emergencies, were shocked by the extent of her injuries. Her arms looked as if she’d been attacked by a great white shark.
‘I was told 10 minutes before the first operation that they’d probably be able to save my left arm, but they might have to amputate my right arm,’ Tiffany says. ‘But all I could think of at that time was that I was just so lucky to still be alive.’
Over the next two weeks brave Tiffany underwent five major operations lasting a total of 30 hours. But throughout her often painful recovery she remained optimistic – no surprise to her parents Cindy and Jeff.
‘We always knew she’d pull through,’ her adoring dad says. ‘She’s been a game little fighter ever since she was a toddler. Whenever she fell over and scraped her knees there would be no tears – she’d just pick herself up and carry on without wanting help from anybody.’But Tiffany says she’d never have made such progress in her recovery from the accident without the love and support
of her family and her boyfriend Matty Ward, 21, the father of 13-week-old Billy.A fresh start
The young couple have now moved to Townsville, where Matty works as an electrician.
‘Matty has been fantastic the way he’s coped with all this drama,’ Tiffany says. ‘When he gets home from work he even helps out with nappy changing – I wonder how many 21-year-old guys could handle that! We haven’t made wedding plans as yet, because – as you can imagine – we’ve had a few other things sidetracking us. But we’ll get around to it when the time’s right.’Although Tiffany may need more operations to help reconstruct her arms, she’s resigned to the fact her right arm could always remain virtually powerless.
‘When Billy was born I knew there would be a problem trying to care for him physically with just one good arm,’ she says. ‘But I decided that somehow I’d manage.‘I want to be a normal mum – bathing him, changing his nappy, and everything else. I didn’t want someone else taking over from me. The first few days at home were a bit awkward, but now I’m getting the hang of it. I can’t explain how I do it – I just do it!
‘At least my right arm doesn’t have to be strapped up in a sling now. That means I can give my baby a proper hug. That’s always a terrific thrill. Absolutely priceless.’By Alan Veitch/Photos Insight Creative