Silent killer: Local man aims to raise sepsis awareness after surviving condition

Special Reports

The immune system is supposed to fight off infections, but a condition many don’t know about can make it go into overdrive.

When the body goes into overdrive, it begins to attack itself, which can quickly turn deadly. As a local man learned, every minute counts for surviving sepsis.

“All I knew was I needed to sleep and I’d be better in the morning and if I had listened to that I’d probably be dead,” Joe Caruso, sepsis survivor, said.

Joe is not sure how he ended up with sepsis. He suspects an infection after dental surgery was the trigger.

He knows how he survived when he became confused and wasn’t thinking clearly. A common symptom of the life threatening medical condition he didn’t yet know he had.

“In my case it was a mother who said he usually returns my calls and she was concerned and found someone who would come and check on me. Before you know it, I ended up in the hospital and that’s the last thing I remember for 8 days.”

Joe was in a coma for those eight days.

“During that time I suffered septic shock, which is total organ failure.”

Sepsis is a life threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to infection injures its own tissues and organs.

Dr. Alan Sanders is an infectious disease specialist who’s part of IPRO’s initiative to educate physicians and the public about sepsis.

He wants everyone to be familiar with the signs that a simple infection may be turning into life threatening sepsis.

Symptoms include ongoing fever and chill despite being on antibiotics, urine output decreases, turns dark, mottled skin color, change in mental status and confusion.

Those symptoms start the clock at zero in the hospital for the timeline to rapidly diagnose or rule out sepsis.

“Those zero time diagnosing it, three hours and six hour windows are critical to getting the right blood work, the right labs, responding to them, initiating a good amount of fluid, antibiotics and maybe sometimes these medications to get their blood pressure up,” Dr. Sanders said.

In fact, every hour raises the risk of death by eight percent if sepsis is not treated.

Anyone can get it from children to the elderly.

While it’s not as well known, sepsis kills more people each year in the U.S. than breast cancer or prostate cancer.

“It’s a very dramatic, unfortunately, and quick way of dying,” Dr. Sanders said.

Joe is grateful for the second chance at life.

“One tends to think there must be a reason for me to be around and for me the added aspect of my purpose might be to explain to other people what sepsis is all about so they might be spared an unfortunate event,” Joe said.

Raising awareness of sepsis was part of Joe’s mission as he undertook a 200-mile pilgrimage in Spain.

He continues to see progress here in New York with a law known as Rory’s Regulations, named after a 12-year-old boy who died of sepsis.

The law requires all New York hospitals to have protocols in place for the early recognition and treatment of sepsis.

“That didn’t exist when I was there, and if it wasn’t for people pulling for me and saying doctor get in to see this man it could have been too late because with sepsis minutes matter,” Joe said.

“Those first hours are really critical, because if you lose those first hours in terms of the rapid degree of fluid support and antibiotics, you may miss the boat,” Dr. Sanders said.

Dr. Sanders urges people to learn about sepsis. Joe says to be aware and don’t be afraid to ask questions about sepsis.

“It’s very important to get that ruled out. By nature we like to say, oh I can get over that, I’ll be better tomorrow, but tomorrow may never come,” Joe said.

 To learn more:

Sepsis Alliance

Rory Staunton Foundation

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