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Learning to spot sepsis can save a life

Stacy Uhrich is used to caring for others, but her experience helped her understand her own bout with a serious condition. 

Uhrich, a nurse at Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, is sharing her story to spread awareness and encourage people to advocate for themselves and their children. 

“I’ve had a history of kidney stones, and that’s what I presented to the emergency department with that day,” she said. “After my surgery, my blood pressure was running low. Over the next day, day and a half or so, that’s when some signs started showing.”

Uhrich had sepsis, a potentially life-threatening response to infection. 

“I had bad shakes that I couldn’t control and significant shortness of breath,” Uhrich said. 

With treatment, she fully recovered, but the process took time.

“It takes a while after you’ve had a significant infection like that,” Uhrich said. “It wipes you out. You’ve got to take time to recover. Women aren’t very good at that, let alone nurses. The recovery period can be extensive. Kids, in particular – because they can’t always describe how they’re feeling – parents need to be aware if they’ve got a cut or a respiratory infection.”

Uhrich said the symptoms of sepsis in children can include being fussier than normal with illness and a fever that won’t go away. 

“Sepsis is not just an infection in your blood,” she said. “It’s your body’s response to an infection.” 

Brandi Giles, a nurse practitioner and the sepsis coordinator at Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, said quick treatment is critical.

“With sepsis, once it starts on that organ dysfunction cascade, that first hour in the hospital is so important,” Giles said. “If we can get everything right, we minimize the risk of death and the risk of complications.”

Giles said adults should feel that they can speak up for themselves or on behalf of their children. 

“Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I think my child has sepsis’ or ‘I’m worried about sepsis,’” she said. “You know your body and you know your child better than anybody. Sepsis is a great masquerader. Kids compensate a long time. They’ll look good and all of a sudden, they’re not good.”

Sepsis may be indicated by lethargy, extreme pain (either generalized body aches or localized pain if there is a cut or injury – the pain is disproportionate to the level of injury), possibly shortness of breath and more. Remember the acronym TIME: Temperature higher (above 101 degrees) or lower (below 96.8 degrees) than normal, Infection, Mental decline (confusion, extreme sleepiness), Extreme pain. 

“Sepsis is a medical emergency,” Giles said. 

The symptoms may not be readily apparent to others, especially in children, who may not be able to fully articulate what they are experiencing.

“Parents know their child better than anyone,” Uhrich said. “Be brave and speak up on any changes. You want to keep your child as safe as possible.”

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