Body & Fitness

Meet Korrin Barrett, the Kiwi quadruple amputee inspiring others to embrace life’s challenges

'Would I go back to having hands and feet? When I came out of the hospital, I would have answered yes in a heartbeat. But now? No way.'

Are you part robot?” inquires a curious child, eyeing up Korrin Barrett’s right arm with noticeable awe. “Yep, I’m a girl Transformer,” replies Korrin, smiling warmly as she opens and closes her $75,000 bionic hand.

This is a typical interaction for Korrin, who is a quadruple amputee. For six years, this bright, overwhelmingly optimistic woman has been learning to not only live again, but to lead an even better, more satisfying life than she did before she lost all four limbs.

“My goal is to show others what is possible – to encourage people going through challenges to reset their mindset, accept their shortcomings and move forwards,” she enthuses.

“Because look, they’re not going to grow back!”

In 2012, Korrin was living in Queensland in Australia. Fit, healthy and madly in love with partner Craig Holmwood, her world was tipped upside down, suddenly and irreversibly, when the former traffic and transport manager went to the doctor to have some niggling digestive symptoms checked out.

“They told me I had ulcerative colitis and sent me away with some anti-inflammatories.”

Fourteen days later, however, Korrin was in intensive care. What she had, in fact, was a perforated bowel requiring emergency surgery to remove most of her large intestine. Her body didn’t cope well – it began shutting down, fast, and suddenly she was battling sepsis and multiple organ failure. Placed into an induced coma, Korrin’s chances of survival were bleak at just five percent.

Nine days later, with Korrin miraculously alive, there was more heart-wrenching news. A lack of blood flow to her fingers and toes had left them black and swollen, and the decision was made to amputate both legs and then her hands.

“I remember being quite calm about losing my legs, but losing my hands was another story and very hard to deal with,” Korrin, 39, recalls. “I immediately began thinking of all the things I wouldn’t be able to do – from the big stuff, like feeding and dressing myself, to silly things, like using my hair straighteners. I was in complete shock.”

A lengthy seven-month hospital stay followed and for gym junkie Korrin, who was used to squeezing every last drop out of life, being confined to a hospital bed was excruciating.

An ileostomy bag had also been fitted, so without hands and once out of hospital, Korrin was now totally reliant on Craig.

“It was so demeaning,” recalls Korrin, who first met the fellow Kiwi in a bar on Anzac Day 2008 and cheekily popped her business card in his pocket.

“I’d actually told him to leave me. I couldn’t get my head around how he would deal with this and I didn’t want to put him through it. I said, ‘Walk away and do it now – not in two years or five years’ time.’ But he replied, ‘Why would I go? You’re still the same person.'”

Craig, a health and safety compliance specialist, who gave up his job to become Korrin’s carer, says he’s never looked back.

“I’ve just tried to take a positive view and concentrated on getting her back to the independent woman she’d always been.

“That meant getting her driving again, having her using her new hand well enough to get the ileostomy reversed, and having confidence on her prosthetic legs so she could get in and out of bed without my help.”

The couple, who are now back in New Zealand and living in Havelock North, say humour has been a massive part of Korrin’s recovery.

“Craig’s got some really inappropriate jokes,” she laughs. “His first joke the day I lost my legs was, ‘Backyard cricket is sorted – we’ve already got the stumps!’ and the jokes haven’t improved since then.

“He’s never allowed me to wallow in self-pity. I think the experience has really bonded us and we are closer now than ever.”

So much so that they’re engaged! An avid Richie McCaw fan, Korrin had an inkling that proposal plans were afoot during a trip the couple took to the South Island last year.

“Craig told me to block out a whole day for a special surprise,” tells Korrin. “He blindfolded me, drove me somewhere, and walked me into a building where he whipped the blindfold off and Richie was standing right in front of me! I was like a giggling teenager.”

Sure enough, Craig, 49, had booked Richie to give the pair a helicopter tour over Christchurch and, once back on the helipad, he dropped to one knee.

“He presented me with a massive inflatable diamond ring that fitted over my arm,” tells Korrin.

Former All Black captain Richie was part of Craig’s plan to propose to Korrin.

An engagement bracelet is being made especially for Korrin – “No fingers means more diamonds!” she laughs – and the happy pair are beginning to consider where and when they’ll marry.

Meanwhile, Korrin is busier than she’s ever been, tackling her next big challenge – the public speaking circuit. With Craig’s encouragement, she’s started mentoring others, and giving inspiring and educative presentations at schools and to corporate groups.

“My topics cover survival, resilience and triumph over adversity,” she explains.

“I try to focus not on what happened to me, but what I’ve done since that moment, and how coming off a base of fitness and good health probably saved my life. I explain there are three choices when something like this shakes your world – give in, give up or give it all you’ve got. I chose the latter.”

She lives by that motto every day. Bungy-jumping, skydiving, swimming with sharks, marathons and motor-racing have all featured over the past six years, and although getting her adrenaline buzz takes Korrin more effort, energy and concentration than any of us could ever imagine, it reminds her of how great life can be.

“Sure, there are things I can’t do, like change my shoes or put in my earrings, and there are times I feel frustrated and unhappy with my body, but I need to remind myself of what I do like, not what I don’t.”

Korrin says she’s amazed that life is more rewarding now than it was before her ordeal began. “I’m able to spend my days giving back and meeting people from all walks of life,” she tells.

“Would I go back to having hands and feet? When I came out of the hospital, I would have answered yes in a heartbeat. But now? No way. I appreciate what I have and am very grateful for the opportunities it has presented to me.”

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