Jen Ludwin

Survivor
(Sepsis Alliance note: Jen was honored as a 2012 Sepsis Hero for her work in raising sepsis awareness.)

It all started with what seemed like a bad sore throat.  Little did I know that this sore throat would completely change everything about my life. On October 14th, 2009, I went to the emergency department at The Ohio State University Medical Center with flu-like symptoms. I knew I had the flu based off my symptoms, but the doctors refused to test me and said I had “something viral.”
The doctors and nurses simply hydrated me and sent me on my way home. Within 48 hours, I was back at the hospital, but this time I was admitted and intubated. I have no memories of calling my mom and brother the morning of October 17th, driving to the hospital, checking in to the emergency department, or being admitted.

When I arrived at the emergency department for the second time, my symptoms included: sore throat, high fever, body aches, fatigue, chills, vomiting blood, labored breathing, and excruciating abdominal pain. Additionally, my fingers were dusky colored and my legs were mottled in color from my toes up to my knees. Once I was admitted to the hospital, I was diagnosed with H1N1 influenza A, renal failure, ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome), and septic shock. (Sepsis and Influenza, Sepsis and ARDS) Within a day I underwent an emergency, exploratory surgery which resulted in the removal of my gallbladder. After being diagnosed with H1N1, renal failure, ARDS, and sepsis, I experienced a series of complications which included: multiple organ failure, DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulation), gangrene, a neck abscess, and gastrointestinal bleeding. (Sepsis and DIC)

I have had 18 major surgeries that include bilateral below-knee amputations, amputations of all digits on my left hand, partial amputation of all digits on my right hand, abdominal surgery, throat surgery, and a thoracotomy. (Sepsis and Amputations) Before the amputations I had to go through 10 sessions, each two hours in length, in a hypobaric chamber. In order to help save my fingers and hands, my hands were sewn into my hip/groin area.

My hands were sewn into my body for almost six weeks. During that time, not only could I not move because of my amputations and having my hands sewn in, but I had a trach which prevented me from being able to talk. I also received an experimental drug, Peramivir, which I credit to plateauing the downward spiral I was in and ultimately saving my life.

My doctors spent six hours on paperwork and had to get FDA and CDC approval in order to get me this drug. Because the drug was experimental, the doctors got permission to draw my blood so that they could observe the drug levels in my blood.  These observations and results are currently being published in an article that will be used world-wide to dose Peramivir.

Three and a half months after being admitted to OSUMC, I was discharged and admitted to an inpatient rehab hospital called The Drake Center in Cincinnati.  I was excited to be moving back to Cincinnati, but scared of leaving my “home” at OSUMC.

After two weeks of being on an acute care floor, I was moved down to the rehab floor where I would undergo intense physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Rehab started immediately and was every day of the week. When I first moved down to rehab, I couldn’t sit up for longer than 15 minutes and required assistance. My first day with my prosthetic legs I walked 10 feet. However, the next day it was 168 ft., then 468 ft., and I continued to walk farther each day. I also had to relearn how to swallow, dress myself, bathe, and other daily living skills.

Almost five months after being admitted to OSUMC, I finally got to go home. I immediately started outpatient occupational and physical therapy. When I began outpatient therapy I was using a walker, but by the time I was finished three months later I was walking without assistance, started going up and down stairs, and was jogging.  My life is slowly returning to the way it was.

Over the next two years I will have more reconstructive surgeries and occupational therapy. I am returning to The Ohio State University in September 2010 to finish my Master’s degree and pursue a PhD in Human Development and Family Science.  With my degrees I would like to conduct research and work with trauma and critical care patients.