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Fighting Sepsis and Winning

09/26/19

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Marilyn Sherrill, RN, MBA, CNOR, CPHQ, Knowledge Transfer Director

Elizabeth, or Libby as her friends and family call her, has been a fighter her entire life. Born with kidney and lung problems, her battle began very early. Doctors in the neonatal intensive care unit didn’t expect Libby to go home but eventually she did. After several months of home dialysis, special food preparation and challenging care, Libby was strong enough to receive one of her mother’s kidneys.

Throughout the years since then Libby has fought long and hard to keep that kidney functioning. Her life involves regular doctor visits to ensure the kidney was not being rejected. She has taken as many as 10 pills a day and, because she’s also developed type 1 diabetes, she has had to endure several finger sticks and three to four insulin shots each day. This was Libby’s “normal.”

In 2017 Libby graduated from high school. She started taking classes at the local community college, and was enjoying her new home in Florida. In October 2018 during one of her regular check-ups, her lab results came back abnormal. There wasn’t any indication of rejection, so she went home to be re-checked at a later time.

During the follow-up visit, she was found to be battling four to five infectious diseases and was hospitalized. After 10 days in the hospital she was discharged, only to return to the hospital two days later with pain at her transplant site. The doctors worked hard to find the right balance of medication to fight all of the infections and to save her kidney. She went home after another week in the hospital.

The day before Thanksgiving, Libby had a great day and even went swimming. Thanksgiving Day was a different story. Her family was hosting dinner, but Libby was not feeling well and chose to remain in bed. Her family checked on her frequently, but after dinner Libby was lethargic, confused, disoriented and also running a fever. Of course, after all of the recent hospital stays, going back was not something Libby or her parents wanted to do. Nonetheless, they knew they had to. They wanted to return to the hospital where Libby’s doctors were because of her challenging care. After driving an hour, they finally arrived and Libby was amazingly still able to walk into the ED.

After they arrived, things happened quickly. Within the first hour they had her history and vital signs, started an IV, did blood cultures and started antibiotics. When her father asked about sepsis, the doctor replied that Libby was already in septic shock, a very serious situation. Going into that first night the physicians told Libby’s parents that they needed to prepare for the worst. Libby and her body were undergoing another fight of their life. Miraculously, her body responded to the antibiotics and her blood test results started to rebound.

Fast forward to now, almost a year later. Libby has been recovering these many months and getting all of her medicines and kidney stabilized by her physicians. She is feeling better, has started working and is looking forward to starting classes again at the community college. For Libby and her family, a quick response to her illness was critical.

Libby’s father wants to share that each of us need to remember “carpe diem,” i.e. seize the day. Each year Libby and her family celebrate the day of her kidney transplant. This year they have even more to celebrate. Libby is looking forward to having her favorite Thanksgiving foods which she missed last year.

If you experience these symptoms and suspect sepsis, act quickly to get treatment. If you have been diagnosed and treated for sepsis, recovery is long and may result in serious consequences for several weeks after being treated.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently launched a new website to increase sepsis awareness, and improve early recognition, diagnosis and treatment. The Surviving Sepsis Campaign includes evidence-based guidelines, performance improvement initiatives, and analysis and publication of patient data.

If you are interested in learning more about the sepsis-related projects offered through the Vizient PI Collaboratives Program, contact us today.

About the author. Marilyn Sherrill is a knowledge transfer director on the Vizient Knowledge Transfer team and works with the PI Collaboratives Program. She provides research on various clinical topics to support the case for change, while developing the resources to share the work performed by members who participate in the various PI collaborative projects. Sherrill previously served as a collaborative advisor for the PI Collaboratives Program. Before this, Sherrill was a senior consultant on the Vizient Advisory Services team.

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