My Daughter Nearly Died of Sepsis. Here's How You Can Stay Safe

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We thought it was the flu. On a bleak afternoon this past winter, my 16-year-old daughter came home early from school, complaining of a fever and sore throat. Less than 48 hours later, I was sitting next to her in an ambulance, careening toward the nearest emergency room.

It wasn't the flu. An underlying urinary tract infection and a nascent case of strep throat had combined forces to create a perfect storm in my daughter’s body, and she had gone into septic shock—the most severe stage of sepsis, a potentially fatal condition and a leading cause of all in-hospital deaths.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is an extreme bodily response to infection, in which inflammation throughout the body can lead to organ damage and even organ failure. It’s often characterized by fever, a high heart rate, low blood pressure, confusion, and dizziness.

Sepsis doesn't have a particular season of the year, and it can hit almost anyone, regardless of age or prior health. In March, Oscar-winning actress Patty Duke died of sepsis from a ruptured intestine at the age of 69. In 2009, 20 year-old Brazilian model Mariana Bridi da Costa died within days after a UTI turned into an aggressive case of sepsis.

"People with sepsis can slip from what seems like routine infection into a systemic situation very quickly,” warns Anthony Fiore, MD, chief of Epidemiologic Research and Innovations in the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

RELATED: Should You Go to the ER?

If it’s such a big deal, why haven’t I heard of it?

Because there currently isn't a single standard methodology for assessing sepsis, hard statistics on its prevalence and mortality rates can be hard to pin down. But according to the CDC, over one million cases of sepsis occur each year, and it’s the ninth leading cause of “disease-related deaths." The National Institutes of Health reports that sepsis kills more people in the U.S. than prostate cancer, breast cancer, and AIDS combined.

Yet while less common conditions like Ebola and Zika garner big headlines, you may not have ever even heard of sepsis before. Donald Landry, MD, chair of medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, has a theory about that. "It's a syndrome, not a disease," he says. "It gets buried in other conditions. It doesn't register with the public as something identifiable."

How can I recognize the symptoms?

Fortunately, once you know the warning signs, sepsis can be recognized and effectively treated—and often with no further long term consequences.

"If you get an infection, you're likely to have a fever and likely going to feel somewhat lousy,” explains Craig M. Coopersmith, MD, a past president of the Society of Critical Care Medicine. “But if you feel there's anything above and beyond that—if you feel your heart racing, if you're breathing fast, if your family recognizes that you're confused, if it feels like you're making less urine than usual—anything that feels abnormal to yourself or your loved ones might be a warning sign that not only might you have an infection, you might have an organ dysfunction. And if you do, that is a true medical emergency, because your health and potentially the life of yourself or of your loved one might be at stake."

If you suspect sepsis in yourself or a loved one (besides those listed above, other signs include pale or discolored skin, rash, and, as the CDC helpfully puts it, “I feel like I might die”) the CDC recommends heading to the emergency room and saying directly, “I am concerned about sepsis.”

RELATED: 8 Things ER Doctors Refuse to Have in Their Homes

My daughter's story has a happy ending. After a terrifying 36 hours in the ER and a potent mix of antibiotics, fluids, and dopamine, her condition stabilized. She spent a few days in the intensive care unit and another week recovering, then returned to school with no other ill effects than falling behind on her math homework.

That's the easily achieved outcome I now want for so many more families like mine. Simple awareness can make all the difference. As Dr. Coopersmith says, "If sepsis is recognized in every patient and treated rapidly and appropriately, we can save multiple thousands of lives a year."

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Health and fitness with Lauren Simpson

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Lauren Simpson is all about going hard or going home, with heavy weights her forte. We chat to her about her fit life and food. 

An online fitness coach, bikini competitor and powerlifter, she has transformed her life from skinny, unhappy and unhealthy to strong, confident and full of life – and now the Sydneysider is on a mission to inspire others.

Day on a plate

Meal 1: Beef rump steak, walnuts, spinach and a side of blueberries.

Meal 2: Turkey breast, macadamias, mushrooms and mixed green vegies.

Meal 3: Barramundi, avocado and mixed green vegies.

Meal 4: Pre-workout meal of chicken breast and white rice.

Meal 5: Post-workout meal of a protein shake with fruit.

Meal 6: Turkey breast and sweet potato.

Simpson says

The body has a greater need for certain nutrients at specific times. Overall, my macros for an entire day of eating are 30 per cent protein, 30 per cent fat and 40 per cent carbs. I always eat my higher carb meals around my workout.

My pre-workout meal consists of a lean protein and a complex carb, eaten 60 to 90 minutes before I hit the gym. I often opt for white rice, as it’s easy on the digestive system and is fast acting. I train with quite heavy weights, so having my energy stores full prior to training ensures I maximise my performance.

Immediately after I exercise, I will have a protein shake. Protein consumed within 30 minutes of my workout kick-starts my muscles’ recovery process; protein replenishes my muscle glycogen, reduces muscle soreness and fatigue, and promotes muscle repair and growth. I find whey protein isolate is best for fast absorption.

The meal after my post-workout shake is also higher in carbs, with a lean protein. I usually have brown rice in this meal due to its higher fibre content, which leaves me feeling fuller for longer.

Follow Lauren Simpson’s journey on Instagram.

Looking for more motivational stories? Head to our lifestyle section. 




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Salmon Cakes with Olives, Lemon & Dill

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Salmon Cakes with Olives, Lemon & Dill Recipe
Salmon Cakes with Olives, Lemon & Dill
Studded with briny olives, bright lemon zest and a touch of dill, this healthy, easy salmon cake recipe is perfect for dinner and for freezing. Whether you serve the salmon cakes on a bun like a burger with lettuce and tomato or paired with a mixed green salad, try a dollop of reduced-fat mayo mixed with lemon juice on top.

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Goji and pepita protein bark

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Packed with protein, these goji and pepita treats make a healthy snack any time of day. 

What you’ll need (makes 12 slices // Prep Time: 5 minutes plus freezing time)

¾ cup Greek yoghurt
1 tbsp pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 tbsp goji berries
1 tbsp cacao nibs

What you’ll do

Pour yoghurt into a 14 cm by 18 cm container or tray. Sprinkle with pepitas, goji berries and cacao nibs. Set in the freezer for a few hours until solid. Once frozen, break or cut into pieces and enjoy.

Recipe courtesy nutritionist Emily Holmes. For more healthy treats, the Concious Foodie website and try her Choc oat protein slices. 




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