Oldham County Resident Survives Sepsis and Shares Story

February 10, 2020

Many people are surprised to learn that a leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals is a condition called sepsis.

Many people are surprised to learn that a leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals is a condition called sepsis.  In sepsis, the body’s response to an infection gets out of control.  Agents naturally released into the bloodstream to fight infection cause inflammatory responses throughout the body.  This inflammation can trigger a cascade of effects, including tissue damage, organ failure and death.

In observance of Sepsis Survivor Week (Feb. 9 – 15), we have the honor of sharing a story from Dave, sepsis survivor and Oldham County resident.  Dave mentions he is lucky to have had sepsis recognized early.  He expresses gratitude toward his wife, hospital care team and the Lord for watching over him during this life-changing experience, which started on October 12, 2016:

I was 62 years old.  I started having lower back pain and I suspected I had a kidney stone because I have had numerous in the past, so I started drinking a lot of water.  The pain continued to get worse and finally I decided to go to the Baptist Health La Grange Emergency Department (ED).  A doctor saw me in the ED and ordered a CT (computed tomography) scan.  I was told I had another kidney stone and I could go home take pain medication, continue to push fluids and I would likely pass the stone as I had in the past.  I was also reminded to come back to the ED if things got worse. 

I went home, continued to drink lots of fluids and took pain medication.  I was able to go to sleep and sometime around midnight my wife woke up due to me shaking, I was having severe chills.  She checked my temperature and it was over 102 degrees, she remembered the ED physician said to come back if things got worse.  We went back to the emergency room and the nurse asked me several questions, which led to the first time I heard the word, ‘sepsis.’ 

The doctor that cared for me during my second visit ordered another CT scan, this time the kidney stone was now completely blocking and would need to be removed as soon as possible to treat the infection.  The nurses and doctor were amazingly quick at bringing my wife information, starting IV fluids, antibiotics and giving me medication for the pain.  At this point, I really do not remember much but my wife quickly realized I was in serious danger.  I went to surgery and had the stone removed and a stent placed.  They continued to treat the sepsis and kept me hospitalized until the infection was controlled. 

Honestly, I was so surprised at how quickly I developed an infection and became so ill.  The weeks following my discharge were also a surprise to me.  I was very fatigued and felt tired all the time and I had some trouble concentrating for at least eight weeks.  I just shrugged it off and thought it was my rheumatoid arthritis, but since then I was made aware of post-sepsis syndrome and some of the symptoms explained how I felt.  I am so grateful for the nurse who met me in the emergency department waiting room and took me quickly for screening and the doctor who recognized the early sepsis, took my symptoms seriously and acted quickly which I believe protected me from the more serious consequences of sepsis. 

I have since learned there is a very high mortality rate with sepsis, it is important to know the early signs and consider sepsis even when it may seem like a routine illness.  I am thankful for the Lord who watched over me during this time.  I cannot express in words the appreciation I have for the wonderful care I received at Baptist Health La Grange.  And of course, I give my wife credit for being a ‘light’ sleeper.

The purpose of Sepsis Survivor Week is to honor survivors and draw attention to this serious condition, which is more common than most people realize.  In the 2019 calendar year, Baptist Health La Grange had 251 inpatient admissions where sepsis was present on admission (POA).  

It’s important to know any infection, from the tiniest source ‘bug bite or hangnail’ to more severe infections, such as pneumonia and meningitis can trigger a response that can lead to sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock.  The infection can be bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic. Some people have a higher risk of developing sepsis: the very young and the very old, people with chronic or serious illnesses such as diabetes and cancer, and those who have impaired immune systems.
Sometimes called septicemia, the condition can produce clotting that reduces blood flow to various areas of the body and can quickly impact the limbs, lungs, kidneys, and liver.

Sepsis Symptoms

The Sepsis Alliance recommends the memory aid T-I-M-E for detecting signs of sepsis:

  • Temperature higher or lower than normal
  • Infection signs or symptoms
  • Mental decline, including confusion, sleepiness or difficulty being roused
  • Extremely ill, with severe pain or discomfort about which a person may say, “I feel like I’m going to die.”

Sepsis Risk Factors

Anyone can develop sepsis.  However, these factors increase your risk:

  • A compromised immune system
  • A wound or injury such as a cut or burn
  • A significant health challenge that causes you to be in the hospital’s intensive care unit
  • Age (very old or very young)
  • An invasive device such as a breathing tube or intravenous catheter

Minimizing Sepsis Risk

Fortunately, there are actions you can take to decrease your risk of developing sepsis.  You should:

  • Get vaccinated.  Preventing conditions such as the flu, chicken pox, etc. can eliminate your body’s need to respond to them and potentially overreact.
  • Treat wounds and infections promptly.  From a cut on your finger to a urinary tract infection (UTI), the sooner you take action to address the injury or illness, the less likely you are to develop sepsis.
  • Practice good hygiene.  Actions such as washing your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water multiple times a day can help prevent infections that can trigger sepsis.

Neither infections nor sepsis are completely preventable.  However, taking steps to reduce your risk and getting prompt medical attention if you feel you may have sepsis can greatly increase your odds of serious consequences.  If you’re outside of a medical facility and suspect sepsis, call 911 immediately and ensure you say, “I am concerned that I have sepsis.”  This direct notification can make all the difference in the world.

At Baptist Health, patient safety is a team effort – and you’re the most important part of the team.  The compassionate care is centered around you and your voice – we encourage you to speak up and be an advocate for your care – or the care of a loved one.