The first time I ever saw or heard of Sepsis it was on a death certificate. The death certificate was my brother’s. I remember squinting across the registrar’s table at this little word next to “primary cause of death.” It meant nothing to me.
My brother was… is… Mark. He was 41 years old, married with a 3 year old daughter. He had a family and a future.
At midday on Thursday 31st May, 2012 Mark walked into A&E (London) with stomach pains. By 17.15p.m. he had suffered a cardiac arrest. By 19.00p.m. he was on a ventilator with a 50/50 chance of survival. By 01.00a.m. on Friday 1st June, his kidneys had failed, his odds had shortened and his family were on the M4 having received the phone call nobody wants. The next morning his heart was too weak for dialysis. We know now that he was in septic shock. Multiple organ failure. He fought hard on his last day as did all the ITU staff. Everyone gave everything but sepsis won. He died peacefully lunchtime on Saturday 2nd June.
We couldn’t believe how this had happened. He had a stomach bug. How could we have lost a son, a brother, a husband, and Sophie a dad? Well, what I know now which I didn’t know then is that it can happen, it does happen and it happens far too often. In fact it happens 44,000 times a year in the UK. 2,200 times in Wales. I thought we were one in a million. We were not.
Sepsis is a car crash illness. It is indiscriminate and can affect anyone. It kills nearly a third of all the people it touches. That’s more than breast, bowel and prostate cancer combined. Shocking isn’t it? You know what’s also shocking? If spotted early it’s treatable and preventable.
It’s fair to say that sepsis changed my life. It does that to lives.
Not long after Mark died I met Ron Daniels of the United Kingdom Sepsis Trust and began raising awareness in Wales. I’m now Executive Director of UK Sepsis Trust in Wales. I’ve met Ministers, cycled from West Wales to Westminster fund raising, I speak in schools, at hospitals, to the people in shops and on buses. We have engaged Welsh Government in our work, a cross-party group has been established. People are listening.
I listen too; to survivors and how they have struggled post sepsis, to the bereaved and how they struggle too.
Awareness and education is everything. People need to know what sepsis is and what it can do. We need to get to a stage where public and health professionals alike are thinking about and recognise sepsis. They need to see it coming because it hides really well. As Mohammed Ali said, “His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see” Ironically he recently died from sepsis.
I’ve been helped along the way by some wonderful people both inside and outside healthcare. . I am on the RRAILS steering group. As such, I’ve seen first-hand the incredible hard work of dedicated NHS Wales staff committed to improve practice to improve outcomes. The programme is doing some great work striving to educate NHS Wales staff on Sepsis. We want the same thing.
We’ve even won an award for it! It was fantastic for The Global Sepsis Alliance to recognise and reward NHS Wales for its awareness and education initiatives.
We cannot afford to lose momentum. There can be no resting on laurels. We should celebrate what has been done, be proud but also continue to challenge and champion what still needs to be done. For me, there has to be a collective effort from Community to Cabinet. We need a common language for patients and practice. The patients need a pathway, an All Wales pathway. If we speak about sepsis the same, we can think about sepsis the same. It brings us together and as we say here in Wales… “together, stronger”.
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