World Sepsis Day 2019: Jemma’s Story

Sepsis is the immune system’s overreaction to an infection. Normally, our immune system helps fight infections – but when Sepsis occurs, the infection can go on to attack our body’s own organs and tissues. We do not yet know why the body reacts this way, which is what makes Sepsis so dangerous; if Sepsis isn’t treated immediately, it can result in organ failure and death. Yet with early diagnosis, it can be treated with antibiotics. During today's World Sepsis Day, events are taking place all over the world to help raise awareness for this silent illness. Below, we're sharing an interview with Sepsis survivor Jemma, who will be giving us an insight into her own personal battle with the disease as she went into labor with her daughter Aubree.

I'd always wanted to become a mom... The one thing I'd always dreamed about was having my own little family and that breathtaking moment when you hold your baby for the first time.


In early 2014 I thought my dream was coming true, but sadly that ended in an early miscarriage. We had discussed baby names and pictured our future together, but for a while, the dream of my little family had faded.


Nearly 2 years later, after lots of trouble conceiving again, on the 4th January 2016 we finally got another positive test! Although I found it difficult to enjoy the pregnancy (any little scare made me think I was losing my baby again), we had reassurance scans and eventually I began to relax. Aside from being under constant consultant care due to thyroid issues, I had a great pregnancy.


We had a gender scan at 16 weeks and found out we were having a little girl. We had already decided that we would call her Aubree and had bought lots of clothes and her stroller, and decorated her nursery - everything was ready for her arrival.


My estimated due date was the August 30th 2016, but as we got closer and there was no sign of things getting started, they tried a sweep to help bring labor on. This was unsuccessful and I was booked to be induced on the September 10th. I started to feel tired, extremely irritable and achy, and on the 8th my mom mentioned my skin looked gray!


On the 9th I began to get pains which I assumed were the start of labor. I slept for most of the day until they got worse, then we headed to the hospital. I entered the triage where I was given gas and air, but I blacked out and became very distressed from it - the midwife mentioned this was a strange reaction, but I was only 2-3cm dilated, so they sent me home.


I didn't sleep at all that night. The pain was all over my thighs and back and I felt so worn out already, and it had only just begun! At 6am on the 10th we went back to the hospital for my induction appointment. I was moved to a delivery suite - at this point wishes of a water birth were at the back of my mind - I felt so ill as they broke my waters but discovered there was barely anything there. Aubree was back to back and the pain had increased; I'd been given another drug to help bring on labor and once that kicked in I became delirious. I screamed for an epidural and immediately after felt guilty for having one; it helped, but I still felt awful. My temperature was so high, they gave me paracetamol through an IV. No one had mentioned potential sepsis at this point.


Aubree's heart rate was beginning to rise and drop, which is when I really began to panic. 12 hours after arriving I was 9cm dilated and was told that I'd have to start pushing about an hour later. The midwife who was on shift finished at that time and when the next midwife came in and checked my notes and checked my temperature, she rushed out and said she was getting a doctor. The next thing I knew, the room was filled with doctors and I was told that we had to get Aubree out as she was becoming distressed. I started pushing with everything I had but I just remember feeling like I was going to die! The doctor took a blood sample from Aubree's head to check her oxygen levels while she was in the birth canal and I was so delirious, I thought I had already given birth, but as I couldn't hear my baby crying I started to panic.


I was taken into theatre where they tried forceps and a vacuum to help guide Aubree out, but neither worked. I was happy to have an emergency c-section, anything to help my baby be safely delivered. As she was already so far down the birth canal, my baby had to be pushed back up, which tore my womb, causing me to lose 2.5 litres of blood. She was delivered at 10:14pm and I was given a quick glimpse of her before she was taken away to have an IV of antibiotics fitted - I wasn't sure why. My husband was also told to leave the room, and I heard a doctor say "I can't stop the bleeding". I was asked how I felt about possibly having a hysterectomy and a blood transfusion if things got worse and then I was put to sleep.


When I woke up, I found myself in high dependency care. There were wires everywhere, I had an oxygen mask on my face and a bag attached to a drain from my womb. I was told if this bag filled up I would have to go straight back into theater. I was still so confused about what had happened and why my labor had gone so wrong. All I could do was watch that bag, terrified it might fill up again. Aubree was placed in a cot next to my bed, and over 24 hours after she arrived, I finally had the strength to ask if I could hold her. I had wanted to nurse her, but after so many people had already bottle fed her, it didn't feel right, she didn't feel like she was mine.


A few days later we were moved to a ward. Both Aubree and I were still being given the strongest IV antibiotics, but all I was told was that we had an infection.


When we were finally allowed to go home, I was still in so much pain from the c-section and felt so disconnected from everything, still trying to get my head around what had happened. It was tough to fall into the role of being a mom. I looked over my hospital notes and saw a section that mentioned 'maternal sepsis', saying 'mother on sepsis 6 pathway'. I had heard about septicemia and knew that it was blood poisoning, so by this point I knew it was serious, but it wasn't until I researched it that I realized just how serious it really was. Even after everything I went through I couldn't believe it.


As the months went on I still suffered the effects; my hair became dry, my nails were brittle, I felt anxious, had night terrors which left me waking up crying, and hardest of all - I found it difficult to bond with Aubree due to the guilt of not breastfeeding her, the awful birth experience and my general depression.


I realized then that I needed help. I was formally diagnosed with PTSD and was prescribed anti-depressants; I was also put in contact with the UK Sepsis Trust who provided me with so much help and support.
Now, 3 years later, Aubree has just started preschool and is the most loving, happy little toddler; I volunteer for the UK Sepsis Trust, helping with events and public speaking, and I am mentally and physically stronger than ever!


I do believe that more people should be aware of sepsis, especially pregnant women. I had no idea about the symptoms of sepsis or what it really meant. Now when I look back I see that my high temperature, pains, tiredness and gray skin could all have been symptoms.


If you think something is wrong, please just ask: could it be sepsis?