'Could it be sepsis?' HSE and UL Hospitals Group launch awareness campaign on life-threatening condition

A LIMERICK woman has spoken about losing her brother to sepsis, to mark Sepsis Awareness Month this September. 

Anne Marie Kiernan, who works at University Hospital Limerick, lost her brother Liam to sepsis when he was just 37. 

"I never thought sepsis would come to my door," she said.

"Liam is my brother. He will always be 37. He had an amazing future ahead of him. He was a professional golfer with a PGA and was teaching golf to children all over the country."

He was married with two children. 

"Sepsis robbed him of a fantastic future, and robbed us of a chance to watch him live it," she said, urging people to learn the signs of sepsis in order to save lives. 

The UL Hospitals Group have teamed up with the HSE to launch their awareness campaign "Could It Be Sepsis?" 

Sepsis is complex and difficult to diagnose. It is the body’s abnormal response to infection that results in the body’s own immune system attacking its own tissues and organs and can be life threatening.

Sepsis can develop from any infection and can affect anyone, but it is more common in the very young, the elderly, and people with pre-existing medical conditions or those with a weakened immune system.  

To mark World Sepsis Day (Friday, 13th September), and as part of Sepsis Awareness Month, the HSE has been joined by families, patients and staff to help raise public awareness of Sepsis and its symptoms.  Participants have kindly shared their personal experience of Sepsis and are committed to helping others to improve public awareness and understanding of this life-threatening infection.

Yvonne Young, Assistant Director of Nursing, Sepsis, UL Hospitals Group, explained: “Sepsis is a life-threatening medical condition and should be treated with the same urgency as heart attack and stroke. One in five people who develop sepsis will die but with early recognition and treatment the risk can be reduced”.

One mother, who shared her daughter Molly’s story, is Audrey McGahon from Co Clare. 

Molly came home from school complaining of a pain in her back, had a very high temperature and was sleepy. Having been to the GP, Audrey decided to go to the ED as Molly was getting sleepier and experiencing increased pain.  It was only when Molly got to hospital a few hours later that septic shock was diagnosed by a nurse who recognised the symptoms. “She’d gone into renal failure.  All her organs basically were being attacked at the same time.” 

Molly was transferred immediately from University Hospital Limerick to Temple Street Children’s Hospital.  “We were told to prepare ourselves; that she didn’t have long, so every minute, every beep from every machine seemed like a lifetime and that’s how the first 4 to 5 days went.  Molly was intubated for 21 days.”

Molly recovered from Sepsis but lives with life altering challenges.  Audrey says, “Our message to families, parents, children out there, just don’t take any chances. There were no huge warnings so just don’t wait.”

Former Ireland international footballer Stephen Carr lost his mother, a fit and healthy 64 year old, to Sepsis last year.  “My mam just had the normal flu, wasn’t really shaking it off.”  Over the course of a week, Stephen’s mother deteriorated and by the time she got to hospital she was diagnosed with Sepsis.  “Doctors did everything they could, but it was just too late, she had Sepsis going on.  I think you have to question everything if you’re not getting better.  The question is “Have I got Sepsis now?”

According to Dr Martina Healy, HSE Sepsis Programme Clinical Lead “The most effective way to reduce death from sepsis is by prevention; good sanitation, personal hygiene, eating healthily, exercising moderately, breastfeeding, avoiding unnecessary antibiotics and vaccination for preventable infections such as the flu vaccine.”

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