Maternal Sepsis Survivor Becomes Sepsis Advocate

May 15, 2019

Sarah Kiehl, sepsis, maternal sepsis, sepsis survivor

“I am forever changed by this experience and decided to become a sepsis advocate in search of healing.”- Sarah

My name is Sarah Kiehl. I am 36 years old and I survived sepsis. On Thanksgiving Day 2015, I delivered twins via C-section. Eleven weeks later, after having my twins and after many years of endometriosis, I had a routine laparoscopic hysterectomy. Two weeks following the hysterectomy, I noticed abnormal vaginal discharge.

I saw my doctor that day and he equated the symptoms to normal surgical recovery. Within two days, I became violently ill and went to the emergency room. I was experiencing nausea, vomiting, elevated temperature and severe pain. Following a CT scan and some confusion between my surgeon and radiologist, it was determined that I had some type of infection. I would remain in the hospital overnight for antibiotics. Following being admitted, I was diagnosed with sepsis due to low blood pressure, high temperature and rapid heart rate.

Following a shot of the prophylactic Lovanox for blood clots, I began to hemorrhage and it was determined that I would need emergency surgery to clear the infection from the internal abscess and remedy the hemorrhage. Following surgery, toxic shock overtook and then it became a game of getting me stabilized. After cultures were run from the abscess, it came back positive for Strep A.

Still in the hospital and after some rough days, I began with fevers and pain. Many different antibiotics were administered, but cellulitis had taken over my wound. With the threat of necrotizing fasciitis, my surgeon then decided they would go back and open the wound because air kills Strep A. After two days, a wound vac was placed. After two weeks total, I was released to go home my newborn twins who I needed to take care of. I came home with home health care three days a week, a wound vac and a PICC line.

After months of healing, I am forever changed by this experience and decided to become a sepsis advocate in search of healing. I have been working with Sepsis Alliance and SIDM (Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine).

As a sepsis survivor, I was invited to join the PAIRED Project to become a patient partner in research about diagnosis and choices patients face when confronted with unexplained symptoms. After the conclusion of this project, I was invited to join an advisory board through SIDM, focusing on the Disparities Project. We are working on a research project titled “Exploring and Addressing Diagnostic Error Disparities Related to Cognitive Reasoning Pitfalls”, which will conduct a study to identify specific diagnostic error vulnerabilities for young people, women and African Americans. I will be focusing on the areas surrounding sepsis. The ultimate goal is to initiate protective strategies to reduce error.

I am now a happy, healthy mother of three amazing daughters. I have gotten a second chance.  Thanks to Sepsis Alliance and SIDM, I have had the privilege to travel and tell my story. I am honored to advocate for young women and mothers about the signs and symptoms of sepsis, and ultimately survival. I will continue to fight to help save lives.