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Kansas health care workers spread awareness about sepsis

September 21, 2018

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — When Andrew Kaminski went to the doctor in 2014 with flu-like symptoms, the doctor told him they couldn’t find anything wrong and to go home and rest.

Within 48 hours, the Kansas City, Kansas, man was hurried to the emergency room with extreme pain on the right side of his body.

What followed was a 45-day hospital stay. Kaminski was unconscious for the first eight days and underwent 10 surgeries.

Awakening after eight days, Kaminski, who was 36 at the time, was told he had sepsis and his body had gone into septic shock.

“Even though I felt the worst pain I had ever felt in my life, that didn’t register with me that something could happen to me that could knock me out for eight days,” Kaminski said. “I lost eight days of my life. That happens in movies, that doesn’t happen normally. It was very surreal.”

Sepsis, a result of the body’s extreme response to infection, can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that September is Sepsis Awareness Month, and hospitals and health care organizations are working to make people more aware of the deadly disease.

Kaminski was one of the people who were unaware of what sepsis is. He said he didn’t think he had ever heard the word “sepsis” or know what it was until it happened to him.

During his stint in the hospital, Kaminski went through dialysis, physical therapy, speech therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Kaminski believes the hyperbaric therapy was the reason he has most of his toes and fingers today.

He lost both of his big toes and some of the tips of his fingers. He also sustained severe nerve damage in his left arm and deals with stiffness in his fingers and aching feet.

Kaminski said the fact that he couldn’t move his left arm while in the hospital made him wonder if he would ever have a normal life again and he worried he would lose his hands and feet.

“I’m a really positive person that will always find a way to make it work, but that was one time that really tested it,” Kaminski said.

Kendra Tinsley, executive director for Kansas Healthcare Collaborative, said sepsis can have a rapid onset and it is unknown why people get sepsis.

Severe sepsis affects more than a million Americans every year, and 15 to 30 percent of people die due to sepsis, according to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Sepsis is also listed as the most expensive condition treated in U.S. hospitals, costing about $24 billion in 2013, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Tinsley said early recognition of sepsis is what they want to instill.

KHC has been working with hospitals and clinics for three years to improve the quality, safety and value of care that is delivered when it comes to sepsis.

The organization holds workshops around the state in order to share information on sepsis and give small health care facilities direct contact with sepsis experts.

Tinsley said KHC also does hands-on work to share sepsis protocols.

“You talk about something where you know you are making a difference in people’s lives (and) able to prevent mortality and morbidity,” Tinsley said. “The issue right here is one where you know as a provider, you are preventing death and significant problems for people by becoming educated in this area and knowing what to do.”

Suzanne Fletcher, sepsis coordinator at Wesley Healthcare in Wichita, created the sepsis program and outreach model that KHC uses.

Fletcher said the program works to help with physicians’ workflow and help take better care of their patients.

KHC has made it possible for Fletcher and her team to go out into the community and share resources with hospitals that may not have the means to treat sepsis, Fletcher said.

Fletcher said there was a period of time when smaller hospitals would transfer patients to Wesley Healthcare and they didn’t make it because the hospital didn’t have the resources or education.

“We were around 52 percent on transfer mortality and now around four to six percent,” Fletcher said.

While children and elderly people are more likely to get sepsis, Fletcher said it can happen to anybody.

Wesley Healthcare treats between 200 to 250 severe sepsis and septic shock patients a month, Fletcher said.

Fletcher said when it comes to sepsis, people should make sure they aren’t experiencing any type of fever, chills or an overwhelming feeling of being unwell.

“They need to be aware of the signs and they need to seek medical attention as soon as they are suspecting sepsis, because over 80 percent of patients, it starts at home,” Fletcher said. “A lot of patients don’t even know what sepsis means or heard the word. Then they come in very sick and don’t make it.”

It has been four years since Kaminski had sepsis and he said he is a better person because of it.

“I feel like I like to take a moment and appreciate what I have,” Kaminski said. “Life is not easy, it’s still not easy, but I really do have an appreciation for everyone that is in my life and all of my friends and family.”

Kaminski now advocates for sepsis and helps raise money for Sepsis Alliance.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com

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