Mystery illness that took her legs doesn't quell teen's faith

MONMOUTH, Ore. - A teenager has returned home after losing both her legs to a mysterious disease that kept her in the hospital for three months.

But doctors still don't know why 18-year-old Tabitha Schulke got sick so fast.

She went to the hospital with what felt like the flu, but it quickly turned into an illness that brought her to the brink of death.

Tabitha and her family said Tuesday it is a miracle she's home after doctors didn't expect her to survive.

When she went to the hospital, she had a high fever. Then that night doctor's told her mother, Donna, they didn't expect Tabitha to live.

Christmas for the family had to wait until February this year. It wasn't the holidays unless Tabitha could be there by the tree.

While everyone else was celebrating on Christmas Day, Tabitha was in a hospital, unrecognizable - swollen and discolored - and in so much pain while her family prayed at her bedside.

She developed gangrene in her legs and her mother said that was one of the hardest decisions of her life, allowing doctors to amputate Tabitha's legs to keep her alive.

"I'm happy that I'm alive, and I'm grateful for all of those things that people take for granted. I'm just thankful to be alive," Tabitha said.

She was unconscious for the entire time and doesn't remember anything beyond the ambulance ride to the hospital. But she believes it's a miracle she's alive.

"I looked in her eyes," said Donna after her daughter opened them, "and I could see she was still there. And that was a great day to know that she wasn't just a shell of a person - that my daughter was still there. They put her plug in her and her first words were, 'I love you mommy.' She said, 'I don't care about my legs mommy, I just want my voice.'"

Doctors had to amputate one leg just below Tabitha's hip and the other just below her knee. She also can't move her right arm much but she doesn't question why.

"Just to have faith because I know it's gotten me through all of this, and God has really chosen me because he knew I was strong enough and I didn't even know I was strong enough," Tabitha said.

She keeps a cross around her neck, holds it close, and tries not to think about how different things are this Christmas compared to last.

"It's kind of weird to think about how things were," she said. "But I try not to think about it. It kind of makes me a little bit sad. But I'm happy that I'm alive."

She believes her faith will get her through.

"I can't underestimate what God can do," she said.

Tabitha said she plans to go on mission work in Africa. That's always been her dream and now she's even more determined.

But right now the focus is on her health. She's on 18 different medications, still has a tube in her stomach so she can take some of those medications. But she is making progress, able to eat solid foods and getting her strength back.