Kim Steele: 2022 Erin Kay Flatley Spirit Award Winner!
August 31, 2022
Kim Steele, a sepsis survivor and quadruple amputee in Monticello, Georgia, had never heard of sepsis before it changed her life in 2016. Now, she spends her days raising sepsis awareness and helping other amputees adapt to their new reality. “Raising awareness has become something very near and dear to my heart because I shouldn’t be here,” Kim said in a recent interview with Sepsis Alliance.
In recognition of her work, Sepsis Alliance named Kim as the Erin Kay Flatley Spirit Award winner for 2022. Each year, this award is presented to a deserving individual who exemplifies the spirit of Erin, the daughter of Sepsis Alliance founder Carl Flatley. Erin died in 2002 after developing sepsis following elective surgery. She was 23. “I was so honored to receive the call from Dr. Flatley, telling me about the award,” she said. “When I found out I won the award, I had a mixture of emotions. It was a feeling of excitement, an honor, and I cried a lot of tears. I would have never imagined I would be recognized this way for doing something I’m so passionate about. I don’t do this for the recognition but to educate and support so that I can make a difference.”
Kim Suspects She Had Sepsis Before
Although Kim only learned about sepsis in 2016, she suspects she had it in the early ‘90s, when she was first diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. “My intestines ruptured,” she said. “I got to the emergency room, and they thought I had appendicitis. When they got in there to do an appendectomy, it wasn’t that at all. I’m sure, still today, it was peritonitis, and I truly believe that it was sepsis because everything, all the signs, everything that was going on with my body was everything that is sepsis. And unfortunately, I didn’t know what it was.”
That first experience and the septic shock later taught Kim the importance of advocating for your health – or someone else’s if you’re a caregiver. This means asking questions and getting as much information as possible. To help others understand what questions to ask and what steps to take, Kim makes herself available as a resource through social media and word of mouth. “It just breaks my heart when I get phone calls, or messages come across my phone from people who need help. You know how everything can just go downhill so rapidly.”
Advocacy Work Began Soon After Hospital Discharge
Kim began understanding the value of her advocacy work when she was in a rehabilitation facility following her amputations. “When I went to rehab, I didn’t know what my life would be like,” she explained. “I was the only amputee there.” But there were patients with other disabilities, from strokes and other health issues in the facility. Some didn’t want to go to their therapy sessions, they didn’t want to eat their meals, or they didn’t want to do what they needed to move on with their life. “I would go in and introduce myself. I would talk to them. And I got them to start going to therapy.” Kim said that she would go with them to their appointments, even if it wasn’t time for her own therapy.
Many of these patients went home before Kim did. “To have them come up to me to tell me goodbye and thank me, and tell me that if it wasn’t for me, they wouldn’t be going home to live a productive life again – that healed me. It helped heal my heart during that time. I found my passion for helping others; I knew that that was what I was meant to do. I became a Certified Peer Visitor with the Amputee Coalition and then I started advocating for sepsis. And I have been doing it ever since.” Kim is now also Lead Advocate for the Amputee Coalition and she was instrumental in getting the Governor of Georgia to declare April as Limb Loss Awareness Month and September as Sepsis Awareness Month.
Giving People Hope
Although Kim has helped many people – patients, survivors, and caregivers – some stand out, like a 25-year-old man from Mississippi. He contracted an infection after he cut himself with a pocket knife. He developed sepsis, and all four limbs were amputated to save his life. To make things even more difficult, his hospitalization occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. This limited his contact with people outside the hospital. “I stayed in touch with his mother every single day. We talked and I helped her with what she was going through,” she said.
“He is now living a productive life, doing what he loves, just like I do. We still stay in contact. His mother says that I was her angel in a most difficult time.” Before Kim made contact with him, the young man was depressed, thinking he would never be able to live his life again. “Then when he saw my videos and how I was going out doing what I did, it pushed him to fight to be independent again, and he’s doing very well.”
As for Kim herself, she’s very proud of who she is today. “I want people to know that we can still live a productive life, regardless of what we’ve been dealt,” she said. “I always say that I’ve turned my tragedy into triumph. I have not let this define who I am as an individual. I have not let this determine who I am. I’m proud and blessed that I’m still here and able to share my story. I can help others understand and recognize the symptoms early enough that we can reduce the number of lives that are lost to this horrible, horrible thing.”
You can read more of Kim’s story here.
Join us at the 3rd Annual Sepsis Alliance Summit on September 28, 2022, at 10:30 am ET as Dr. Flatley presents Kim with the Erin Kay Flatley Spirit Award. Register today at SepsisSummit.org.