April Chavez, Maternal Sepsis Survivor, Shares Her Harrowing Story
Maternal sepsis is a leading cause of maternal death in the United States. The maternal mortality rate in the U.S. is the highest of any developed country. Read April’s story.
On Saturday, September 2, 2017, I delivered a healthy baby boy and I was the happiest woman on earth. My husband and I had prayed for this child for years and this was going to be the start of our new adventure. What I did not know then was that this adventure was going to have a very rough start, one that still leaves me with nightmares.
On the day I was supposed to be discharged from the hospital I began to feel sick. I began to experience fever, chills, overall feeling of weakness, became short of breath, and felt like my heart was racing. I told my doctors all of my symptoms, but was quickly brushed off and was told that I was likely “just anxious about being a new mother.” Some tests were run and my White Blood Cell (WBC) count was higher than the previous tests, but again I was brushed off and told, “An elevated WBC count is normal after child birth.” When I was shivering from my fever, I was told to take a hot shower and one doctor even turned the thermostat in my room up to 80 degrees to stop the shivering. When my fever turned to sweats a nurse brought me a fan, again I was not taken seriously. Over the next few days I would continue to complain to doctors, but I continued to be ignored. One doctor even told me I was being “crazy” and needed to “stop”.
After doctors had given me enough Ibuprofen to make my fever go away for a while, they told me my new mom anxieties would likely go away when I got home and they sent me home with a prescription for anxiety medication. Not being a medical professional, or knowing what an elevated heart rate, fever, and elevated white blood cell count meant, I naively believed the doctors, that I would feel better once I got home.
Upon going home my symptoms did not improve. I continued to take the prescribed medications, including the anxiety medication prescribed by the doctor. My heart continued to race and I could not sleep or care for my newborn baby. Within about 36 hours of being released from the hospital, I couldn’t take it anymore and returned to the hospital first thing 9/08/17. On the way to the hospital I told my mother about the doctor telling me I was “acting crazy”, and was second guessing going back for fear that I would be told the same thing and sent home again. I am thankful my mom kept driving and insisted I get checked out. After a short stay in triage I was admitted into the hospital due to suspicions of an infection. Over the next 24 hours in Labor and Delivery my condition did not improve, I got progressively sicker and sicker as each hour passed. I went to the hospital to get better, instead I laid there getting worse. The OBGYN doctors had no real answers for my family. In the early morning hours of 9/09/17, I was finally taken to the ICU by a nurse from a different department who looked at my labs and knew something was extremely wrong. Had he not taken quick action, there is no doubt I would not have survived another 24 hours in the Labor and Delivery unit.
Over the next 2 weeks I would be treated for sepsis, endometritis, septic shock, and all the other issues that go along with those, I.E.. kidney failure, shock liver, unstable blood pressure, pulmonary edema, blood clots, and the list goes on. I don’t remember much from my 9 days in the ICU and my earliest memories of waking up from my medically induced coma are filled with nothing but confusion. Where was my son? Did I even have a baby? Was that a dream? Whose hand did I trace the letters “C-R-U-Z” in to when I had a tube in down my throat?
I would later learn that was my mother’s hand that I traced my son’s name in to and that was one of the very first things I did when I woke up. As I started to become more aware my family and doctors carefully tried to explain to me that I had developed an infection of an unknown source. That was the very first time that I had ever heard the word, “sepsis.” At the time, I had no idea what septic shock even meant. I was very confused. I had no idea that I had literally just escaped death. I had no idea that during my time in ICU the doctors told my family to call those closest to me to say their goodbyes. I had no idea that my husband had to think about how he was going to raise his son without a mother. I had no idea that my son came so close to growing up without his mama. I had no idea what I had survived had killed so many others.
My husband recently visited another hospital in our area and noticed several posters about the symptoms of sepsis and we all talk about how if we had seen that information what might have been different. I constantly find myself saying, “I wish I had known about sepsis.”
Although my story of being a new mom got off to a rough start, today I am a happy, healthy, mama to a silly, smart, and sometimes a bit of a wild child boy. On the days when I get upset about missing out on the first month of dirty diapers, midnight feedings, and sweet baby cuddles I am reminded that not all who experience sepsis are as lucky as me. Now more than ever, I hear stories about people who have lost limbs, had severe long-term problems, and even died from sepsis. Throughout my one month stay in the hospital I constantly heard from medical professionals how “rare” sepsis is, but as I have done more research I am realizing sepsis really isn’t rare at all.
As I continue to share my story I find people just don’t know what sepsis is. I try to stress to everyone that while my sepsis experience was related to child birth, sepsis can affect anyone from something as small as a cut on your finger.
My goal in sharing my story is to help educate others about the symptoms of sepsis and the importance of advocating for your own health or the health of those around you. Because sepsis can affect anyone I want to help raise awareness across all audiences, but my experience has led me to have a special place in my heart for mothers-to-be. I I hope that more OBGYN teams will educate themselves on sepsis so that no family has to go through what mine did and even more so, I hope that pregnant women learn the symptoms and stand their ground if they feel that something is not right.
By April Andrea Chavez