It was a regular day at the office back in 2014 for Kathy Gaudette. She's a secretary at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. But on her lunch break, Gaudette started to get ill.
"I ended up fainting in the bathroom," she said. "They called a code white then I ended up in the E.D."
That regular day turned into a life or death situation. The doctors told her she was very sick.
"My heart rate was through the roof. My blood pressure was down, very low and I couldn't even stand up," Gaudette said.
Within a couple of hours, Gaudette was diagnosed with sepsis, a potentially fatal complication of common infections, anything from pneumonia to a spider bite.
"It could be any sort of infection at any age and anybody can be hit by it," said Dr. Andreas Taenzer, an anesthesiologist.
About 1 million people in the United States are diagnosed with sepsis every year. Roughly 280,000 die from it. But doctors at DHMC have found the survival rate can be drastically increased with early intervention with a relatively simple treatment.
"You have to give IV fluids, about a third of your whole blood volume, as a bold infusion of fluid and a blood spectrum of antibiotics," Taenzer said.
Since 2014, DHMC has cut its mortality rates from sepsis in half, saving dozens of lives and millions of dollars in additional care. But doctors say the key component is acting quickly.
"If we get the patients too late, what we can do for them is relatively little because, basically, it is running its course at the time," Taenzer said.
Symptoms are similar to the flu-- fever, shivers. DHMC doctors are trying to spread the word to other smaller community health centers that even if sepsis is only a possible diagnosis, treatment should start right away.
"If we err on the side of overdiagnosing it with the intervention of giving IV fluids and antibiotics, which is relatively benign, so be it," Taenzer said.
"When you are diagnosed with a urinary tract infection that I didn't know I had is scary enough. But then to find out that I have an infection that could potentially kill me is very scary, very frightening," Gaudette said.
Gaudette is now back on the job with people who save lives grateful that they saved hers.
"I'm just very, very thankful," she said.
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