Sepsis: say the word, save a life

Spring 2018

Sometimes the flu isn’t just the flu. Sometimes it is sepsis, a condition many have not heard of and Lisa Brandt is passionate about spreading the word.

“If I had known the word ‘sepsis’ and what it is, I could possibly have been diagnosed earlier,” says Lisa, a London broadcast journalist and author.

And that would have prevented significant illness and near death.

Lisa thought she had the flu. She stayed home one day and the next day just couldn’t get her head up off the pillow. She felt progressively worse over the next days and it became apparent to Lisa it wasn’t just the flu. She describes how she slept 12 hours a day, woke up, walked to the couch, and then fell asleep again. Nothing in her previous flu experience was anything like this.

“Then it became a comedy of errors. I called my family doctor’s office and the receptionist told me it was just the flu and refused to make an appointment. Then I went to a walk-in clinic and again I was told it was just the flu,” recounts Lisa.

While you can get sepsis from the flu, sepsis is a more profound illness than the flu, says Dr. Tina Mele, LHSC surgeon and Intensive Care Unit physician. “Sepsis is the body’s immune response to a bacterial or viral infection.”

At the point Lisa could no longer urinate despite drinking liters of water, she called Telehealth and was told to call 911 immediately.

Lisa called for an ambulance and then things clicked into place. Lisa arrived at LHSC University Hospital and was seen by a physician right away.

“They drew blood. I kept passing out. A nurse asked me to provide a urine sample, and I couldn’t. Then the rush was on and I was given antibiotics. I remember the doctor took my hand and told me, ‘You are really, really, sick,’” says Lisa.

“At LHSC we see severe cases of sepsis in the hospital. Usually sepsis patients are cared for in the ICU to manage low blood pressure and multi-organ failure that is associated with sepsis,” says Dr. Mele.

 

When someone has sepsis, the body releases cytokines (a type of small protein) that can damage organs. With Lisa, her liver was failing but luckily the antibiotics started to take effect.

Recovery was slow. Lisa spent two weeks in hospital and another six weeks at home with a nurse coming in every day to change the intravenous antibiotics that she required 24/7.

“I can’t say enough about how awesome my care was at UH. Everyone was amazing, and I am one of those singing the praises of the hospital,” says Lisa.

What caused Lisa’s sepsis? It may have been the result of a root canal she’d had a couple of weeks before she became sick.

There are a range of symptoms. In Lisa’s case she had what seemed like classic flu symptoms: fever spikes, chills, and fatigue that just got worse and worse.

“I was so thirsty I would wake up from thirst, and yet I couldn’t urinate for days. I was so tired I would fall asleep in mid-sentence. I experienced mental confusion and didn’t know what day it was,” says Lisa.

“I remember lying there thinking if I fall asleep I wouldn’t wake up or I could pick up the phone and call 911. The Emergency doctor confirmed that I wouldn't have made it through the night.”

Lisa has made it her mission to spread the word about sepsis ever since, in media interviews, her morning show on News/Talk 1290 CJBK, voice-over work for nursing education programs, and speaking engagements.

She has also written a book, My Sepsis Story: How I Almost Died and You Don’t Have To, and she continues to hear from people all over the world who have experienced sepsis.

Lisa kept reaching out after many told her that it was ‘just the flu.’ As she says, “If I hadn’t listened to my intuition, I wouldn’t be here. The more people know about sepsis, the better.”

 

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Lisa Brandt