Don Smith

Survivor

My sepsis adventure began in December 2017. On Monday, December 18th, while taking my wife to the hospital for what resulted in an emergency appendectomy that evening, I noticed that my right foot hurt. I was a runner at that time, so I wasn’t completely surprised by my foot being sore; but the next day, I noticed that my foot hurt much more, and that I was very tired and having trouble focusing.

On Wednesday morning, I went to see my podiatrist, because my foot hurt worse each day. He thought I had gout, so he gave me a couple of prescriptions, and sent me home. The meds reduced my pain some, but I still felt awful.

By Thursday I couldn’t get out of bed by myself. As my wife and daughter discussed the situation, it was very difficult for me to follow the conversation. In the afternoon, they decided to take me to the hospital.

In the emergency department they didn’t really make a diagnosis, but they decided to admit me and they ran many tests. Early Friday morning, they decided to transfer me to ICU. My nurse stopped the chief trauma surgeon in the hall and asked him to come look at me. After a quick evaluation, he decided to take me down for surgery immediately and rearranged his schedule to operate on me first. In that first surgery, they determined that my foot was infected and that I had severe sepsis, heading to septic shock. (Sepsis and Bacterial Infections) The surgeons removed dead and infected tissue from my right leg and foot. They decided to keep me sedated and intubated, as my breathing was labored. My liver and kidneys had stopped working and my blood pressure was dangerously low. Analysis determined the infection to be caused by the Strep A virus, although no entry point was found. (Sepsis and Group A Streptococcus)

I remained in the medically-induced coma for thirteen days. For much of that time, the hospital staff was unsure whether I would live or die. Finally, on January 3rd, they reduced the sedation enough for me to wake up. I was deconditioned to the point that I couldn’t move my hands, legs, or anything but my head at first.

The medications to keep my blood pressure up restricted blood flow to my feet, and most of my toes died. They were removed – four from the left foot, and three from the right foot, in separate surgeries in January. (Sepsis and Amputations) On January 13th, I was moved from ICU to a regular room, and on January 20th, I was moved to a rehab floor in a different hospital.

The final major surgery was skin graft surgery, in which the plastic surgeon took skin from my hip and covered the open wounds on my right leg and foot. I had 100% take on the skin grafts, and slowly the leg and foot began to heal.

Physical and occupational therapy were successful, thanks to great therapists. I stood on my left foot (heel only, as my foot was still recovering from having the toes removed), holding on to parallel bars on February 1st, and progressed to the point where I could move by hopping on my left foot while holding onto a walker.

On February 12th, I was released from the hospital and came home! Two weeks later, I was cleared to put some weight on my right foot and started walking, albeit only a few steps at a time.

I continued with therapy and doing exercises on my own, slowly improving all the time. By April, I was strong enough for my wife to go back to work, and our daughter to go overseas to start her new career. On May 16th, I returned to work after five months out sick.

I was very fortunate to survive. I was lucky that my wife and daughter took me to the hospital when they did, over my objections. I was lucky to get the excellent medical care I got from many talented, hard-working, caring people. I was lucky to get great emotional support from family and friends, which kept my spirits up and held the depression off.

I was very unlucky to experience sepsis, and very lucky to survive it. I have a good quality of life, but I am still limited by the loss of my toes and the damage to my feet. I also deal with some mental decline and overall loss of vitality. I’m very grateful to be alive!