Acting fast in the fight against sepsis

Posted on in Hospitals

At five months old he received a heart transplant, at five years old he battled non-Hodgkin lymphoma, then at 24, Greg Rodgers found himself fighting for his life again.

Greg on Ward 33

Greg feared his lymphoma had returned when he found a lump on his neck. He knew he would have to face weeks of chemotherapy, but what he had not been prepared for was the battle he was about to have against sepsis – a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection which can lead to tissue damage and organ failure.

Greg’s immune system was so low following his chemotherapy that as soon as he picked up an infection it developed into sepsis. Luckily for Greg, the team on ward 33 at James Cook were fast to spot the signs and responded immediately.

“I was on my last run of chemo and I just got really tired. I did not want to do anything else but sleep,” said Greg, 26, of Great Ayton. “The next thing I knew I was waking up and everyone was around me and I panicked and thought what was wrong.

“I had heard of sepsis before but I was just too out of it at the time to know what is happening. My heart function had dropped right down so the only option was to put me on the high dependency unit (HDU).”

Sepsis nurse Jacqui Jones said: “His blood pressures decreased, his breathing was rapid, he needed more oxygen, so the staff screened him for sepsis and called in the critical care outreach team.

“Immediate live saving treatment was started on ward 33 and then he was taken to the hospital’s HDU where he was isolated and closely monitored.”

After three days Greg, who works as a trauma admin clerk at the hospital, was well enough to return to ward 33 to complete his recovery.

“The treatment I received was phenomenal,” he said. “I was definitely in good hands!”

Sepsis must be treated as a medical emergency – for every hour that essential treatment is delayed when sepsis is suspected, the risk of death is increased by 7.6%.

As soon as sepsis is suspected a number of blood samples must be requested and this can now be done at the touch of a button at James Cook thanks to a new improved system inspired by Vicky Burton, a trainee assistant practitioner on the haematology day unit.

Vicky helped create a sepsis collection button on the Trust’s test ordering system as part of her university project. Now when sepsis is searched, all of the required blood tests for sepsis are automatically requested in one go.

“This speeds up treatment and ensures all the appropriate tests are completed straight away,” said Vicky. “This improves patient outcomes as well as making it easier for staff to request the blood tests.”

What is sepsis?

Sepsis occurs when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs. It can lead to shock, multiple organ failure and death, especially if it is not treated quickly.

How is it treated?

Management of sepsis after admission to hospital involves a set of interventions known as the “sepsis six”. These should be initiated by the medical team within an hour of diagnosis. It includes taking blood samples, blood cultures and other relevant specimens, giving antibiotics, intravenous fluids and oxygen and close monitoring of vital signs and fluid intake and output to be able to assess progress and severity of sepsis.

What are the signs and symptoms?

If you have a suspected or diagnosed infection and show any of the following symptoms, then it is likely that you are suffering from sepsis:

  • New confusion and lethargy
  • Difficult or rapid breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low urine output
  • Mottled or discoloured skin