What to Know
- Sepsis is an infection in the blood that comes on suddenly and can be deadly.
- Sepsis can be caused by any infection, such as pneumonia, a urinary tract infection.
- "Sepsis kills more people than breast cancer, prostate cancer and AIDS combined.”
A Maryland woman returned from a wellness vacation in January to have her health dangerously deteriorate within hours.
Sepsis, which has been called toxic shock syndrome and blood poisoning, comes on suddenly, can be deadly and is more common than people think. It is an infection in the blood that kills thousands of people in the U.S. each year.
“I started the new year off so happy,” Jimena Ryan said. “I was in California visiting my son, and we went to Big Sur and did a mother-son, one-on-one adventure. This was the wellness month, you know, January.”
“I came home Tuesday evening, had dinner, and a little later that night after eating some stew that I had made, my whole stomach, like, everything imploded,” Ryan said.
She thought she had the flu, but after a few hours, she knew something more serious was happening.
“This was uncontrollable and I thought maybe I burst my gall bladder,” she said. “By three o'clock in the morning things were just going downhill fast. By that point nobody could barely touch me — excruciating pain — and they took me to emergency room, did CT scans, and the doctors came in and said, ‘Your blood pressure is 60 over 40, and you're going into septic shock.’”
Ryan made the right call getting an ambulance that morning. Speed is crucial when dealing with septic shock.
“It comes on very suddenly, and you need to identify it and treat it oftentimes within minutes or hours,” said MedStar Health Director of Clinical Performance Improvement Dr. Meena Seshamani. “Some of the symptoms include feeling like you might die, high fever and shaking, chills, that you're sleepy or difficult to arouse or confused, severe pain.”
Seshamani leads the sepsis awareness initiative at MedStar Health.
“Sepsis is when an infection turns deadly,” she said. “It's your body's response to an infection that can then kill you. In fact, sepsis kills more people than breast cancer, prostate cancer and AIDS combined.”
That's why MedStar started an awareness campaign.
Sepsis can be caused by any infection, such as pneumonia, a urinary tract infection. In Ryan's case, it was strep bacteria that lodged in her abdomen.
“Some little bacteria that got in there,” she said.
After emergency surgery to clean out the bacteria, Ryan was in the intensive care unit for four days and then given rounds of different antibiotics, which, along with fluids, are the main way to treat sepsis.
Her doctors said because she got to the hospital within hours of the onset of symptoms and was in good physical shape going in, she survived. But she faces a long road to recovery ahead.
“Literally in the span of eight hours I went from feeling absolutely fine to an ICU,” she said. “It's been a climb back, but slowly but surely all the vitals, the blood work, everything has come back.”
Reported by Doreen Gentzler, produced by Christina Romano and edited by Manel Coleau.