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Woman raises sepsis awareness with Wings of Wyoming flight

September 19, 2018

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Machelle Stotts lost her 15-month-old grandson, Oliver, to sepsis following a lung infection Nov. 26, 2016.

At the time, the family had never heard the word.

“We did not know anything about sepsis,” said Stotts, who also was Oliver’s legal guardian. “When we read the word on his death certificate, we had to Google it to see exactly what it was.”

Now, she’s hoping to educate others on the potential dangers of the life-threatening illness that affects 270,000 Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sepsis is the body’s physiological response to a life-threatening infection in the bloodstream, which, if left untreated, can trigger inflammation and damage to a number of organ systems.

Stotts’ latest effort to spread awareness included flying Thursday with Wings of Wyoming pilot Doniv Feltner to Curt Gowdy State Park in honor of World Sepsis Day, an initiative by the Global Sepsis Alliance. The flight was approximately 30 minutes long, during which Stotts was given the opportunity to fly the Cessna Skyhawk herself.

“Oliver loved airplanes,” she said. “So I wanted to fly a plane for him.”

Feltner made sure to circle above Hidden Falls, the location of Oliver’s first hike.

Stotts said Oliver’s death highlighted how signs and symptoms of sepsis, such as fever and difficulty breathing, are often mistaken for other illnesses.

“According to a 2016 Sepsis Alliance Survey, about half of American adults do not know what sepsis is,” she said. “I was really surprised to find out that just about any infection can lead to sepsis. When you see the flu deaths, for example, people die of complications, but people don’t use the word because no one knows what it means.”

Judd Dawson, hospitalist medical director at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, said the hospital regularly treats sepsis patients.

“It is very common for folks to come in with sepsis because it represents a more extreme form of many infections,” he said. “So, if you get strep throat or influenza, you can become septic.”

Although no one is immune to sepsis, the very young and elderly are at a higher risk due to weakened immune systems. This applies to those with chronic diseases, such as cancer or diabetes.

Dawson said the illness can be prevented by taking the necessary precautions to prevent infection in the first place, and asking the right questions.

“If you are getting ill, talk to your doctor earlier in the process,” he said. “Don’t ignore urinary tract infections, coughs or fevers that seem like pneumonia and are not going away. If you feel like your blood pressure is going down and you are lightheaded, that would be an indication to seek medical assistance very quickly, too.”

Research shows that immediate treatment of sepsis includes administering antibiotics, and providing oxygen and intravenous fluids to maintain blood flow and oxygen to organs.

After Oliver’s death, Stotts also established Oliver’s Hope Sepsis Awareness and Prevention, an organization that donates to local causes, hosts fundraisers and posts stories of other sepsis cases in the country on its Facebook page.

“We think this is something that every person should know about,” Stotts said.

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Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, http://www.wyomingnews.com

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