It was an outcome to surgery Lori Goers never expected.
After undergoing a procedure for a cyst on her ovary six years ago, Goers began her recovery. Just as she was about to be discharged, however, she experienced a critical setback.
“I thought I was ready to go home when I had the worst pain in my life in my gut,” the Hammond resident recalled.
Medical personnel diagnosed her with a serious condition called septic shock, which occurs when the body experiences an extreme response to an infection, said Dr. Minal Kapoor, a Community Care Network infectious disease practitioner.
Sepsis occurs when the body releases chemicals into a person’s bloodstream to fight an infection, which can cause the body to experience an inflammatory response.
“It is life-threatening, and without the timely treatment, sepsis can rapidly cause tissue damage, organ failure and death,” Kapoor said.
Sepsis that causes dangerously low blood pressure is called septic shock and can lead to internal organs receiving too little blood.
“Septic shock is a serious and potentially fatal condition,” Kapoor said.
The toll the illness took on Goers’ body was extensive. Over the course of a year, she underwent several surgeries to remove the poison from her abdomen. She also had a tracheotomy, ventilator, dialysis, colostomy and severe hallucinations.
Her fight continued after she was discharged from the hospital, even struggling to pick up a gallon of milk due to muscle tone loss. She also suffered from several other debilitating side effects as she battled Post Sepsis Syndrome, from short-term memory loss to hernias, anxiety and depression. PSS affects up to 50 percent of sepsis survivors, who are left with other physical or psychological long-term effects.
“I lost my job, had to go on disability, and learn how to live with the new me,” Goers said. “Before this, I had never heard of sepsis.”
Septic shock is most common in people who already are affected by illnesses that weaken the immune system, Kapoor said.
“Septic shock can be caused by an infection you already have — in your skin, lungs, urinary tract or somewhere else — that triggers a chain reaction throughout your body,” she said.
More than 1.5 million people are diagnosed with sepsis each year in the United States, and about 250,000 Americans die from the illness. One in three patients who die in a hospital have sepsis, Kapoor said.
“A CDC evaluation found 7 in 10 patients with sepsis had recently used health care services or had chronic diseases requiring frequent medical care,” she said.
Although anyone can get an infection, and almost any infection can lead to sepsis, certain people are at higher risk, Kapoor said. This includes:
— Adults 65 and older
— People with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease, cancer and kidney disease
— People with weakened immune systems
— Children younger than 1
— Adults treated for lung infections such as pneumonia
— Adults treated for kidney or urinary tract infections
— Adults experiencing gut, stomach or intestine infections
— Adults with skin infections
There is no single symptom of sepsis, and can include a combination of several, including confusion or disorientation, shortness of breath, high heart rate, extreme pain or discomfort, clammy or sweaty skin, and fever, shivering or feeling very cold, Kapoor said.
“Sepsis is a medical emergency,” she said. “Time matters.”
Detecting sepsis early and starting immediate treatment is often the difference between life and death, which is why Kapoor said it’s important to call a doctor or head to the emergency room if sepsis is suspected.
“If you have an infection and don’t get better or start feeling worse, ask your doctor, ‘Could this infection be leading to sepsis?’” she said.
If sepsis is diagnosed, patients are treated in the hospital.
“Research shows that rapid, effective sepsis treatment, which includes giving antibiotics, maintaining blood flow to organs and treating the source of infection, can save lives,” Kapoor said.
Other types of treatment may include kidney dialysis and surgery to remove tissue damaged by the infection, she said.
Goers hopes by sharing her story, she can help spread awareness about the symptoms of sepsis, as well as what to expect during recovery.
“My recovery is ongoing,” she said. “I’ve had multiple surgeries. I now get kidney stones because so much of my intestines were removed that it changes the way I digest things, so now I’m having surgery on my kidneys. I will never be the same.”
Regardless, Goers said she feels lucky.
“A lot of people have multiple amputations, and are far worse than me,” she said. “I am blessed to still be alive.”