How to Save a Life

Today is the first World Sepsis Day, to bring attention to the condition that affects at least 750,000 people each year. It’s the body’s way of responding to an infection or injury (even a minor one), and can quickly turn fatal. Those who are hospitalized are especially vulnerable.

If you read in the New York Times the horribly sad story of 12-year-old Rory Staunton, a boy from Queens, New York, who died in April of septic shock after a cut he got from gym class became infected, then you know how out of control sepsis can become. There’s a question as to whether his doctors recognized the signs of sepsis, which underscores how vital it is that we as parents understand the condition. At this point, early detection is everything—once it’s identified, antibiotics and IV fluids can bring the problem under control.

Classic signs include:
* Fever
* Chills, even hypothermia
* A heart rate faster than 90 beats per minute
* Swelling
* General confusion
* Low blood pressure
The problem, of course, is that sepsis can look like so many other illnesses. But this is why we have to be vigilant when something seems off about our child. Newborns can also be vulnerable, particularly when their mother had complications during pregnancy. Complications that up the risk:
* Premature rupture of the membranes (amniotic sac), or membrane rupture for a long period of time
* Bleeding problems
* Difficult delivery
* Infection in the uterus or placental tissues
* Fever in the mother

A baby at risk for sepsis may have:
* Difficulty breathing, or stop breathing altogether
* A decreased heart rate
* A low temperature
* A weak suck
* Jaundice

The Sepsis Alliance has collected stories of many people who’ve been affected by sepsis. It’s worth your time to read them, because the advice from their doctors and the warning signs from the families themselves will leave you feeling ever so slightly powerless. The words of a mom named Lainie Duke, whose 3-year-old survived a bout of sepsis, stay with me: “My daughter was fine on Friday night, in septic shock on Saturday morning. She didn’t have surgery, wasn’t recently ill, wasn’t scratched or bitten by an animal—I had no reason to think something like this could happen. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS, and don’t let a doctor/hospital dismiss your concerns or rush you out of there. I will continue to be an advocate for my children’s treatment when I feel that something isn’t right. I still don’t know what caused her sepsis, and I will never know. But I will thank God every day for saving my little girl.”

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