A woman has shared how what she thought was a bad cold was actually pneumonia that lead to sepsis, leaving her in intensive care and having to learn to walk again.
Having made a full recovery, she is sharing her story to help make people aware of the signs and symptoms of the condition - which is the body's extreme response to an infection.
According to charity Sepsis Research FEAT, symptoms to look out for include very high or low temperature, confusion, shaking, blotchy skin and difficulty urinating. Combinations of these symptoms or rapidly worsening symptoms, are a reason to seek urgent medical attention, the charity explains.
In the run-up to Christmas 2018, Suzanne Graham, 45, from Glasgow was suffering from what she suspected was a nasty cold. "I was busy and there was a lot happening," she says of the time she first fell ill. "I had a cold that I didn’t think too much about, but it just lingered."
As the weeks went on Graham says she started to feel more unwell, but assumed the cold had developed into flu. "Looking back, I had no idea how unwell I really was," she continues. "I'd been ill for a number of days and was really struggling to breathe. One night, I couldn’t sleep, and I remembered that my friend, who was the same age as me, had had pneumonia.
"I thought that was unusual, because I’d always associated pneumonia with older people, so I looked up the symptoms of pneumonia and the flu, and quickly found that my symptoms were all pointing towards pneumonia."
Graham arranged an emergency appointment with her GP, but needed her husband to drive her as she was struggling to walk.
"The GP measured my blood oxygen and listened to my lungs," she recalls. "I remember her saying to me, 'I don’t want to alarm you, but we will be calling an ambulance – you have to go to hospital.'
"The ambulance came and took me straight to intensive care. I remember getting into the ambulance, but I have no memories from then on."
At the hospital Graham was diagnosed with pneumonia, with a 10-20% lung function, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and sepsis.
Having been attached to a ventilator, doctors revealed that the oxygen Graham was getting may not be enough to keep her alive. "The only treatment option available was something called ECMO treatment," she says.
ECMO, or Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation, is a treatment used in extreme cases where a patient’s lungs or heart are not functioning at a normal level. The machine uses an artificial lung to oxygenate the blood outside of the body.
While Graham was found to be eligible for the treatment, the closest machine was 145 miles away, in Aberdeen, so a team of five medical staff drove through the night to get her there.
Graham was in Aberdeen for seven days, where she continued to receive ECMO treatment. Thankfully, she responded well, and was able to be transferred back to Glasgow to continue her treatment.
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While remaining in intensive care, Graham no longer needed a ventilator to breathe and doctors were able to take her out of the heavily medicated state she'd been in. She was then moved to a high dependency unit to begin her recovery.
"I was bedbound," she explains. "It's amazing just how quickly you lose your muscle mass. I think they call it ‘intensive care syndrome’ – because you’re just lying there, you lose your muscles. My muscles had just wasted away in that time."
Watch: Gloria Hunniford was hospitalised with kidney sepsis
Initially she struggled to sit up in bed and three physiotherapists had to help her stand for the first time, as she was no longer able to support her own body weight.
But after extensive work with physiotherapists to learn to adjust to using crutches, and after a total of three weeks in hospital, Graham was able to return home.
"Mentally, it’s been a lot," she says. "Physically, my recovery was centred around building up my fitness as I’d lost a lot of weight and muscle mass."
Five years on and fully recovered Graham is passionate about raising awareness about sepsis.
“I’m so grateful to the doctors and hospital staff, they were amazing," Graham adds. "I’ve been extremely lucky to survive it intact as sepsis can cause loss of limbs and have other physical effects.
"I’m very lucky to have made a complete recovery.”
Where to get help for sepsis
The Sepsis Trust offers support for survivors and relatives in addition to advice on dealing with bereavement and legal issues. The charity can also connect you to support groups and much more.
The NHS has plenty of information on sepsis symptoms.
Sepsis Research FEAT is the only UK charity dedicated to supporting research to help identify treatments for sepsis, while also working to raise awareness of this devastating condition.
Additional reporting SWNS.