By: Sarah Vasilakos

This January marks 12 years since my own personal experience with developing and surviving sepsis.

Anytime we have an infection, chemicals are released into the bloodstream leading to an inflammatory response to occur. This is our body’s defense mechanism to “fight off” the infection and start to heal. Typically, this inflammatory response is a good thing, but sometimes the body doesn’t stop there and begins to attack its own healthy tissues.

Sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, is a very serious life-threatening condition that occurs when the body’s response to an infection begins to injure its own organ systems. Symptoms of sepsis can act like a bad flu, including high fever, fast heartbeat, low blood pressure, rapid breathing, cold/clammy skin, dizziness, confusion, extreme fatigue, and general sense of not feeling well.

To be diagnosed with sepsis, doctors will confirm an infection is present by doing bloodwork, taking blood cultures, and reviewing your symptoms. If not treated early, sepsis can lead to septic shock, multi organ failure, and possible mortality.

When I was 16, I woke up one January morning feeling like I had a horrible case of the flu. I had a fever of 103, felt very fatigued and “out of it”, my heart was racing, and I was very clammy. I went to the doctor right away and she diagnosed me with the flu and sent me home with Tamiflu and instructions to rest. At that time, I was receiving TPN through a central line nightly. A central line is a type of IV catheter placed in a large vein near the heart to allow for long-term medications and IV nutrition. Thankfully, anytime a patient has this type of IV access and comes into the doctors with a high fever it is mandatory to draw blood work and send blood cultures to see if the IV line is infected.

Not even a few hours later, my doctor calls up telling us to get to the hospital immediately. The blood cultures had come back positive for an infected central line. The bad flu we all thought I had was actually sepsis. Being so close to my heart, I would have to get the line removed immediately, start IV antibiotics and be monitored closely to make sure it was caught in time.

I ended up spending eight days in the hospital, was out of school for an entire month, and had a port placed once I was cleared of any infection.

It’s crazy to think if I would have waited to see a doctor even another day, I might not be here telling my story.

If you have an ostomy, or chronic illness, chances are you have had some type of IV catheter placed for long term use. My suggestion to anyone with a central line, PICC line, or port, is that it is better to be overly cautious. Any sign of a fever over 101, or general flu feeling, get checked out by a doctor immediately to rule out sepsis. At the time I developed sepsis, I had a central line for almost five years, so I was no stranger to proper care. Also know that you can also develop sepsis without having a central line; sepsis likes to be sneaky and cause havoc on both healthy and ill people.

Has a healthcare provider ever discussed sepsis and risk factors with you?