2020 Sepsis Hero: Rusty Wagstaff

“My new nickname is Second Chance,” he said as he laughed. “Never give up.”

Rusty has been a fixture in the sepsis awareness community since he survived sepsis in 2013. Rusty was left with amputations of both legs below the knee, the right arm below the elbow, and the left hand, reminders of his battle with sepsis.

Since his recovery, he has brought his positive attitude and his story to raising sepsis awareness. And, maybe even more importantly, Rusty never shies away from talking about his experiences and he is always willing to be a supportive ear to someone who needs one.

When Rusty was asked about his reaction to receiving the phone call from Sepsis Alliance Executive Director Thomas Heymann, telling him about the award, Rusty said, “I have never considered myself to be a hero. I consider the Sepsis Alliance people to be heroes.”

Rusty didn’t know what sepsis was before he became ill but as he worked on his recovery, he met others who did know about it. “A nurse told me her next door neighbor had died from sepsis,” he said.

“After I was sick and had my amputations, we went to Chicago to the rehab institute,” he continued. And the more he learned about sepsis and how common it was but how little known overall, Rusty was determined to do what he could to raise awareness. “We started a Step on Sepsis walk, which got us in touch with the folks in San Diego [Sepsis Alliance].”

Since then, Rusty has been part of many sepsis awareness events, in person and online. For the past two years, Rusty has allowed Sepsis Alliance to use his story and photos as part of Sepsis Survivor Week. He has also participated in Sepsis Alliance webinars, has been interviewed by members of the media, and has spoken to groups about sepsis.

Rusty says often people see his prosthetics and think he is a war veteran, and some children think he is a robot. He explains about sepsis and what can happen, continuing to spread the word one person at a time.

Rusty lives with his wife Bonnie in Wendell, NC, where he putters around, mowing his lawn and fixing things. “The only thing I don’t do is climb a ladder!” Two of his four grandchildren live close enough that he spends a good bit of his time caring for them.

A few weeks ago, Rusty’s life was at risk again when he had a heart attack. He left the hospital with two new stents in his arteries. “My new nickname is Second Chance,” he said as he laughed. “Never give up.”

Sepsis Alliance is proud to have Rusty Wagstaff as part of the 2020 class of Sepsis Heroes.



Rusty and his fellow Sepsis Heroes will be honored during the 9th Annual Sepsis Heroes gala on September 17, 2020.

To learn more, click here