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Steph Wasson

Survivor

It’s extremely difficult to shortly summarize the most traumatic 6 months of my life, but here it goes.

2015 was supposed to be the best year of my life. And it started out that way at first. I was a young, healthy, 26-year-old ICU nurse working in a level 1 trauma center. I had just gotten married that summer, started my first semester of nurse practitioner school in the fall, and found out I was pregnant shortly after that. Little did I know that the year would end with me fighting for my life.

After two weeks of complications, it was determined that my pregnancy was ectopic and not viable. By that time, I already had free fluid in my pelvis so surgical termination was my only option. I was heartbroken, but I also just wanted to get it all behind me so I could move forward and enjoy the holiday season with my family. (Sepsis and Pregnancy & Childbirth, Sepsis and Surgery)

I underwent a laparoscopic salpingostomy on December 2, 2015. Everything was fine at first, until I started having pain. That never improved. It eventually got so bad that I had to go to the ER that night because my OB/GYN was out of ideas. I got some pain meds and was basically sent on my way. The abdominal CAT scan that was ordered had been canceled and I was discharged home; only to end up right back at square one: in agonizing pain that was so severe I could hardly breathe. I knew that I had come from the one and only place that could help me, and I knew I had to ride it out until I got better or worse and I ominously knew that it would be the latter. It inevitably did.

Twelve hours later I was slurring my speech and my husband was calling 911. Upon arrival, EMS could not get a detectable blood pressure. They rushed me to a nearby hospital that fortunately, my mom worked at. The rest is sort of a blur because I was unresponsive in a coma for the next ten days. Apparently during that time, I had been taken for emergent exploratory surgery where it was discovered that my bowel had been perforated during my salpingostomy. Since it wasn’t initially caught, it developed into raging peritonitis and septic shock, which then lead to ARDS. (Sepsis and Perforated Bowel, Sepsis and ARDS)

I ended up being admitted in ICU for 34 days (December 3-January 7). I required 7 surgeries total (5 abdominal, 1 VATS, and an ileostomy reversal several months later), the first 5 being within the first 10 days of my admission. I was in multisystem organ failure and was no longer responding neurologically. Things were looking grim. But I eventually turned a corner and started improving. On the eleventh day, I finally started to wake up. I barely missed needing CRRT dialysis and barely missed getting trached after being intubated for 15 days. I had a large abdominal wound that took months to heal and an ileostomy with mucous fistula that caused me to lose 40 pounds without trying. Eventually, I was able to get it reversed and had several months of therapy to get back all the strength and endurance I had lost.

Once I was ready to go back to work, I transferred to the same ICU I was a patient in and worked alongside the nurses and doctors that saved my life. To this day, some of them are still my closest friends.

Three years later, I graduated NP school and got my dream job, working with surgery patients that undergo some of the exact same surgeries that I had. Being able to pay it forward, share my story, and give these patients hope is one of the most rewarding aspects of my life that I wouldn’t trade for the world. As crazy as it sounds, I’m actually thankful for my septic experience, because in the end, I’ve gained more than I lost. I gained an empathetic patient perspective that I would have never gotten otherwise. I’ve made so many new friends and colleagues who I never would have met. My career has more purpose now than it ever has before. My view on life is fuller and I appreciate things that are so easy to take for granted. The one benefit of hitting rock bottom and nearly dying is that there’s nowhere to go but up.

The amount of time that lapsed between my time of injury to my time of diagnosis was only 27 hours and it nearly cost me my life. This is why TIME is so essential in sepsis diagnoses and why I feel so passionately about it. Had my perforated bowel been recognized earlier, I wouldn’t have had so many complications. I am an educated nurse and this still got missed. If I’m aware of the signs and symptoms of sepsis and had multiple providers miss it as well, what about these poor people that DON’T have any medical background? If I am able to save a life or help a larger scale of people by easing a patient’s suffering, even in just the slightest way, then all my own suffering was worth it. It has been my mission since then to spread awareness and educate as many people as possible, both medical and nonmedical.
I do this by sharing my journey and information about sepsis both in person and on social media. I have done several fundraisers over the years for Sepsis Alliance in order to help them continue to educate the public as well.

Last year was especially significant to me because Giving Tuesday fell ON my actual 4 year sepsiversary. As a septic shock survivor and nurse practitioner, it is my goal to try to prevent this from happening to someone else. By raising money to support Sepsis Alliance, it allows them to be able to continue to spread awareness and education, which can literally save lives.

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