Sepsis survivor and advocate considers herself one of the lucky ones

18 October 2021

(Southern Health News, September 2021)

Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to an infection. It is very serious and can happen to anyone, but more commonly it happens to the very old, very young or people that are immucompromised.

“In my case, I was only 36 years old,” says sepsis survivor and advocate Fiona. “I consider myself one of the lucky ones and truly believe I survived for a reason.”

Fiona experienced sepsis when her daughter was just 10 months old. In mid- 2015, Fiona was settling her baby in the middle of the night and banged her elbow on the cot, and hours later presented to Flinders Medical Centre (FMC) Emergency Department in incredible pain.

A whirlwind 12 hours later, Fiona was in septic shock and in FMC’s Intensive Care Unit with concern about her increasing heart rate and drop in blood pressure. She was immediately prepped for emergency surgery.

“Everything was going so fast and my health care team told me I was very sick and my condition was serious. Then it hit me, I might not wake up. Luckily I did wake up the following morning and I knew it was time to fight.”

Fiona spent another 10 days in hospital before she was discharged. ”My experience at FMC was overwhelmingly positive. The nurses and doctors there saved my life and I will be forever grateful. There are names and faces that I will never forget.”

What stands out for Fiona the most though is what she experienced post sepsis – including cognitive issues, lack of energy and the inability to get back to normal daily life.

“It took me three months to feel somewhat normal and I still struggled 12 months later – I did not feel like the same person anymore and went searching for answers.”

On reviewing her discharge letter, Fiona discovered she had experienced septic shock whilst in hospital – she knew she’d had a serious infection but did not know it was sepsis. “I was relieved when I found out more about septic shock and online support groups echoing what I was feeling and experiencing. I didn’t feel so malone and understood what I had been through.”

Fiona wants to spread the word about sepsis to ensure more people are aware of what it is and signs to look for – including slurred speech, rapid heart rate, extreme shivering or fever, severe breathlessness and discoloured skin.

When I experienced sepsis I had never heard of it before. “Sepsis can happen from any infection so in my case it was a bacterial infection, but it can be viral or fungal. If you have any type of infection and it is getting worse, ask your healthcare profession ‘could this be sepsis?’

Passionate about advocating for those impacted by sepsis, Fiona is a Consumer Advocate for the Australian Sepsis Network, consumer representative for the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC), and started the Australia and New Zealand Sepsis Support Group Facebook page for survivors and bereaved families.

“I am one of the lucky ones – most survivors I know have lost limbs and many bereaved families have lost children. Sepsis is a medical emergency and can turn your life upside – it really can happen to anyone, it happened to me!”