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CHKD Blog

Portrait of Audrey Leishman and her family

Sepsis: Awareness Can Save Lives

Author: Audrey Leishman
Published Date: Thursday, September 24, 2020

Five years ago, I met a serial killer. Instead of using knives or guns, it used my own body to try to end my life, and it came very close to succeeding.

Its name is Sepsis. Before it almost killed me, I had never heard of sepsis, and didn’t know that it is the body’s extreme response to an infection. Without early treatment, it can cause tissue damage, organ failure, and death.

When I became ill, I thought I had a simple case of flu and needed to rest. I was only 31, the picture of health, with two boys ages 3 and 19 months, and a traveling husband. I went from 100 percent healthy to a medically induced coma in just four days.

If I had known the symptoms of sepsis, I would have sought treatment much sooner. Each year, sepsis kills 6 to 9 million people of all ages around the world. Children, especially newborns and young infants, can be more susceptible to developing sepsis. More than 75,000 infants and children develop severe sepsis in the United States every year.

Every two minutes, a person dies from sepsis. And yet, depending on the country, only 6 to 55 percent of people have heard of it. This is a potentially fatal fact for many people. Each hour that sepsis goes untreated increases the mortality rate by 8 percent. My chance of survival was less than 5 percent.

One year after my illness, I became determined to make my experience mean something. Together, my husband and I started the Begin Again Foundation. Our mission is to provide life’s most pressing needs to families experiencing medical and life crises. Our LEISHline program provides financial assistance to survivors of sepsis, toxic shock syndrome, and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). We also work to spread awareness, because knowing the symptoms will save lives.

Through our Butterfly Blessings program, we are very proud to support CHKD’s social work program by helping patient families with uninsured expenses. We’ve learned firsthand how stressful the hospitalization process can be on the entire family. Life doesn’t miraculously stop when someone in your family is admitted to the hospital; financial responsibilities outside the hospital walls remain.

Each family’s need is different and that’s why we trust CHKD social workers to determine how we can best help alleviate financial burdens. From paying electricity bills to supplying toll passes, we work to bridge the gap between medical treatment and a child’s full recovery. In five years, we’ve served more than 3,000 CHKD patient families and continue to work to find ways to meet the needs of our community.

September has been designated World Sepsis Awareness Month by the Sepsis Alliance, a group of very passionate people who are dedicating their lives to this cause. Most have been directly affected. They are survivors. Or, they are grievers. Some are permanently disabled. And, some will live with a void in their lives that nothing will ever fill. I’m a lucky one, I beat the odds, and it is not something I will ever take for granted.

I am very thankful that CHKD asked me to share our story. Please learn about sepsis and help us spread awareness.



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About Audrey Leishman

Audrey was born in Naples, Italy and moved to Virginia Beach at four years old. She graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in government and psychology. Audrey and her husband Marc founded the Begin Again Foundation in 2015. Audrey lives in Virginia Beach with her husband and their three children, Harvey, Ollie and Eva.

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