We’ve Joined Forces with MoMMA’s Voices to Drive Real Change in Maternal Health

Maternal mortality

The Rory Staunton Foundation for Sepsis Prevention Joins Forces with MoMMA’s Voices to Provide Opportunities to Drive Real Change in Maternal Health 

Speak up, even if your voice is shaking

The Rory Staunton Foundation for Sepsis Prevention (www.rorystauntonfoundation.org) is pleased to announce it has joined forces with MoMMA’s Voices, a national coalition of patient organizations and individuals with lived experiences or those who represent them, using their voices to reduce maternal complications in pregnancy and the postpartum period.

The timing of this alliance is quite serendipitous in that it coincides with the work the Rory Staunton Foundation in doing to investigate maternal sepsis which is rising disproportionately in the U.S.  MoMMA’s Voice’s slogan, “Speak Up, even if your voice is shaking”, could not be more valid as the Foundation lays the groundwork to stop the cycle of sepsis in pregnant and post-partum women.  In fact, sepsis is the third leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths in the United States.

“Ciaran and I are unique in that we formed the Rory Staunton Foundation due to the untimely death of our son Rory at twelve years old due to undiagnosed and untreated sepsis.  I never want to see any mother, no matter the age of their child, born or unborn, lose their life or the life of their most precious treasure to sepsis.  It is totally unacceptable,” stated Orlaith Staunton, Co-Founder.

With the wave of media and public attention on the growing and unacceptable rates of maternal mortality and severe morbidity in the United States, this coalition answers the need for a strong consumer voice to advocate, amplify, and illustrate these issues in the U.S. MoMMA is short for Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Advocates, which captures the coalition’s mission.

We encourage supporters of the Rory Staunton Foundation who have been affected my maternal complications in the pregnancy and postpartum period to visit www.mommasvoices.org/champions to share your story, join the training, and use your voice to be a champion for change. If you have already shared your story on www.rorystauntonfoundation.com, any of our social media outlets or with another source, you can simply copy your link into the story section after completing the demographic section of the submission.

The coalition’s overarching goal is to provide a home and platform for the patient voice to actively engage in efforts to make childbirth safer in our nation. Issues like patient-provider communications, racial disparities, quality of healthcare delivery, and patient information cut across all medical conditions and heavily contribute to preventable maternal deaths and illness.  Most importantly, it will provide training and tools to equip advocates to become effective champions for change.

For more information about MoMMA’s Voices, please contact Coalition Program Manager Nicole Purnell at Nicole.Purnell@preeclampsia.org.

For more information about The Rory Staunton Foundation for Sepsis Prevention, please contact Co-Founder, Orlaith Staunton at orlaithstaunto@rorystauntonfoundation.org.

A Thanksgiving Message from April Chavez, Maternal Sepsis Survivor

April Chavez blog

April Chavez survived maternal sepsis–but at significant cost. She is now working with the Rory Staunton Foundation to promote awareness of maternal sepsis. We are proud to share her Thanksgiving message. To learn more about April, read her story here: April’s Story.

There is no turkey in the oven, no living room full of my family watching football and no smell of pie filling my house, but today and every day since I survived sepsis, are Thanksgiving for me.

Every day I am thankful that I survived sepsis.

Sepsis is the body’s extreme reaction to infection and claims more than 275,000 lives in the United States each year, leaving many others with life-changing disabilities.

Somehow, I survived, and I get to celebrate another holiday with my family. I constantly think about the women who have died from maternal sepsis, which is responsible for nearly a quarter of all maternal deaths in United States. Those women will never know what it is like to hear their child say “mama” or be able to hold their child when they are sick. They will never know what it is like to hear their child yell “touchdown” for every exciting play during a football game. They will never know what it is like to scoop their child’s poop out of the bathtub or step on blocks in the middle of the night. Because of maternal sepsis they will not be around to celebrate birthdays and holidays, but I am.

I am thankful that I am here. I am thankful that I survived sepsis. I am thankful that sepsis did not take any of my limbs or leave me with any other life-changing disabilities. I am thankful that I can share my story in an effort to help spread awareness about maternal sepsis.

Maternal sepsis can be difficult to recognize because a woman’s body experiences so many changes during and after delivery. Changes in heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, temperature and pain are all things that might happen after giving birth, but they are also possible signs of sepsis. In my experience you can’t always rely on medical professionals to recognize sepsis. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself or a loved one to ask a doctor if symptoms could be related to sepsis.

– April Chavez, Maternal Sepsis Survivor

The Powerful Legacy of Little Clover Harrold

Clover Harrold

We’re honored to share these moving words by Allison Harrold, whose beautiful daughter, Clover, was snatched from her too soon. Please read about her sepsis tragedy and her initiative to raise awareness of sepsis and honor her child through the Clover Award, awarded to hospital staff who display excellence in sepsis care.

I am writing this as a mother to a child lost to sepsis. A grieving mother, always desperately searching for ways to parent her daughter who is no longer physically present. After I lost my precious Clover, I didn’t think I would survive in the world again, but without any other choice, I did. I survived by finding fellow parents that understood the hell I was going through. With the help of my sister’s expert Googling, I immediately discovered Rory’s parents and their wonderful foundation. The Rory Staunton Foundation was the lifeline that I needed to know that I could survive Clover’s loss and perhaps help others. I soon discovered doing anything I can to help prevent another child lost to sepsis was a way I could parent Clover and honor her memory.

To look at Clover was to see her dad’s reflection. My firstborn looked just like her Daddy (cute, of course!). We were speeding through the days as she was becoming an active toddler, into EVERYTHING. There was not much time to think about the day-to-day things that could potentially be fatal. When she spiked a fever one night, it seemed like it was like every other fever and we would wait it out. We became progressively worried when her fever would not break despite medication and she became increasingly grumpy. A visit that day to the pediatrician resulted in being told it was likely a virus, that there was one “going around”. The next day Clover’s fever persisted, she was very clingy, refused to eat or drink anything and she became increasingly lethargic . We took Clover to the ER where we were told she was dehydrated, and despite her still having a fever and an elevated heart rate, we were discharged. After coming home from the ER that night Clover got worse. We returned to the ER, again. The gist of the visit is that she was misdiagnosed. It was assumed the symptoms were related to some oncological issue. By the time it was discovered that she was septic, she had already progressed to septic shock and died a very short time later. There are too many details upon which to elaborate, many of which we now believe, contributed to her untimely death. After losing her blood pressure, the events spiraled downward very quickly leading to cardiac arrest. Despite being able to resuscitate her, the lack of oxygen adversely affected her brain. We decided to end life support and hold our daughter in our arms while her heart stopped beating. Clover was just shy of 10 months old when sepsis took her life.

I admire the Stauntons so much for their bravery in being able to fight everyday to help other children. After Clover died, I would learn that there would be so many days, when simply surviving was all I could do. I would learn that it was much harder to share my daughter with other people, more so than I ever thought. I still deeply felt that I needed to try and help others as a way to be the best parent I could be for Clover. We decided to share Clover’s story with the hospital where my husband and I both worked. We managed to share our experience with the hospital where she died. We spoke with a local newspaper. Sharing her story with Roper St. Francis (where my husband and I worked) would lead to the development of a Four-Leaf Clover Pin which is awarded to healthcare staff that display excellence in sepsis care. We believe that connecting staff back to a personal story, a reason for what we do, will help people continue to provide excellent sepsis care and improve sepsis outcomes.

As Thanksgiving season is approaching, I find myself thinking about its meaning. I know it is not about the “homey” smells of turkey and pumpkin pie and laying on the living room floor watching the Thanksgiving Day parade with my sibs. Its origin is rooted in survival after loss. It’s giving thanks for what allowed for that survival. When it comes to being a loss parent, it’s hard for me to be thankful at all. But I am thankful to be Clover’s mom. And I am thankful for organizations and people that are out there fighting for our babies, whether we can see the danger looming or not. We would like to continue to contribute to this fight when it comes to sepsis. My husband and I would like to see other hospitals use the Clover Pin for recognition of excellent sepsis care. Our hope is it will provide incentive and extra armor in the fight. We hope that one day a Four-Leaf Clover Pin in healthcare will automatically make people think of sepsis and always be a reminder of why it is so important for healthcare providers to identify and treat sepsis early. We also believe the Clover pin symbolizes hope, unity, and love. It is our hope that we will do better at identifying sepsis early, unifying around the common cause of providing excellent sepsis care to prevent what happened to Clover and many other children, and the love that we all have that connects us and makes us strive to be the best we can be.

If your hospital or healthcare organization is interested in implementing the Clover Award, please reach out to me at allison.n.harrold@gmail.com for more information.

Clover’s Mom, Allison

Learn About Our New Maternal Sepsis Initative!

Maternal Sepsis Campaign

The Rory Staunton Foundation is proud to announce the launch of a ground-breaking new initiative to combat maternal sepsis, a leading cause of pregnancy-related death in the United States.

The initiative is funded in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services; Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness Response Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) Division of Research, Innovation, and Ventures (DRIVe). BARDA DRIVe seeks to leverage public-private partnerships to address pressing health security challenges.

Why Maternal Sepsis?
We have made it our mission to end preventable deaths from sepsis–including for new and expectant mothers. No woman should die as a result of pregnancy and birth–and no baby should be left motherless.

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, despite spending more than any other country on hospital-based maternity care.(1) It is the only developed country where mortality rates are rising rather than falling. Over the past two decades, the rate of pregnancy-related deaths in the US has doubled, with black women three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related issues than white women. (2) According to the CDC, the majority of these deaths are preventable. (3)

Maternal Sepsis is the third leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths in the United States and globally; nearly a quarter of all pregnancy-related deaths are sepsis related with studies showing that the rates of maternal sepsis are increasing. (4)

Learn more about the project on our Maternal Sepsis Campaign webpage

Rory Staunton Foundation & Sepsis Alliance File Joint Letter of Opposition to CDC’s Sepsis Policy Changes

Rory Staunton Foundation, Sepsis, Bloomberg

Last week we learned that the CDC has proposed changes to the way sepsis cases are coded. The issue is complex but essentially means that third-party payors would be empowered to deny payment for care relating to the early recognition and treatment of sepsis. As a result, hospitals and physicians would be disincentivized from providing critical and lifesaving care relating to the the early recognition and treatment of sepsis and patients could be saddled with the cost of care that should absolutely be covered. These development are deeply alarming and prompted us to file a joint letter of opposition with Sepsis Alliance asking the CDC to withdraw this harmful proposal. We will keep you updated on future developments.

RE: Opposition – CDC proposal to change ICD-10-CM

Dear Dr. Redfield and Dr. Madans:

On behalf of Sepsis Alliance and The Rory Staunton Foundation, we respectfully write in opposition to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) proposal to change ICD- 10-CM sepsis related codes. The proposal, released on October 10, 2019, would accept Sepsis–3 diagnostic criteria for ICD-10 coding. A move to Sepsis–3 diagnostic criteria would disincentivize physicians and hospitals from early recognition and treatment of sepsis and in doing so threaten the lives and limbs of the nearly 2 million patients presenting with sepsis at the hospital.

Mortality from sepsis increases with every hour that treatment is delayed [1]. As many as 80% of sepsis deaths could be prevented with rapid diagnosis and treatment [1]. By definition, the Sepsis- 3 criteria are mortality predictors and do not account for the nuances necessary to identify sepsis cases in their early stages when diagnoses and treatment are most effective. With these narrow criteria that do not account for the quick progression of sepsis, many sepsis cases will be missed or go untreated until the patient is critically ill.

Sepsis–3 criteria are not universally accepted. In fact, numerous important and influential medical societies have not endorsed the Sepsis-3 criteria, among them: American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, Society of Hospital Medicine, and many more. Not only are they not universally accepted by all medical societies, they are not widely accepted by daily practitioners, nor are they largely implemented in the hospital or care settings in which they work. In addition, the Sepsis-3 criteria conflict with the CMS sepsis criteria, which many hospitals must comply with.

Accepting the Sepsis- 3 criteria only benefits third party payors and places hospitals, physicians, and patients in a compromising position. If this proposed change were to take place, third party payors would be empowered to deny payment to hospitals for lifesaving sepsis treatment. This could potentially shift the financial burden of necessary medical treatment to the patient.

The Sepsis-3 criteria discourage physicians and hospitals from diagnosing and treating sepsis early, because they will no longer be paid for doing so. By intercepting sepsis early in its progression rather than later, many more dollars are saved than would be saved by withholding sepsis payments for patients until they are critically ill and treatment is less effective. Most importantly, early recognition and treatment of sepsis provides patients with the best chance for survival and improved overall outcomes. For these reasons, we strongly oppose the CDC proposed changes to ICD-10-CM sepsis related codes.


Thomas Heymann Executive Director Sepsis Alliance

Ciaran & Orlaith Staunton Co-Founders
The Rory Staunton Foundation for Sepsis Prevention

Steven Q Simpson, MD Chief Medical Officer Sepsis Alliance

Martin Doerfler, MD Chief Medical Officer The Rory Staunton Foundation for Sepsis Prevention

1 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16625125

Announcing Our New Maternal Sepsis Initiative!

Maternal Sepsis Campaign

We have BIG news. Last week, the Rory Staunton Foundation for Sepsis Prevention was awarded a major federal government contract, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s BARDA DRIVe program. The contract will partially fund a groundbreaking initiative to combat maternal sepsis, a leading cause of maternal death in the United States. The U.S. has the highest rate of maternal death in the developed world with black women three times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy than white women.

View our press release announcing the initiative here.
You can visit our new Maternal Sepsis Campaign webpage here.

What We’ll Be Doing:

Working with New York State Department of Health to analyze existing data around maternal sepsis and identify risk factors for women, including demographics and hospital procedures;

Developing a database of information on maternal sepsis that will become an unparalleled resource in informing public policy on the issue;

Improving delivery of care to new and expectant mothers;

Guiding education and awareness for patients and providers through the development of a suite of educational services including webinars and public service announcements;

Coordinating a multi-sector coalition of state and federal organizations to reduce maternal mortality rates;

Stopping maternal and neonatal sepsis in its tracks.

How You Can Help.

We are immensely proud of the project we have developed to end maternal and neonatal sepsis. We are taking a strong stand to ensure that no woman or infant dies as a result of pregnancy and childbirth, particularly in a country as wealthy and medically advanced as the United States. If you feel as we do, please consider contributing to this critical work. Your donation will go directly to our work in preventing the deaths of women and their infant children during pregnancy and after childbirth.


Thank you for your continued support. It is because of you that we will continue our battle to end sepsis.

A Message About Whoopi Goldberg, Vaccines, and Infectious Disease Week from Dr. Martin Doerfler

During International Infectious Disease Week, the Rory Staunton Foundations’ Medical Advisor, Dr. Martin Doerfler, Discusses Whoopi Goldberg’s Sepsis Survival and the Importance of Vaccinations.

Earlier this year, Whoopi Goldberg was hospitalized with an episode of Sepsis and Septic Shock caused by Pneumonia that brought her “close to leaving the earth”, in her words. Many people have heard of pneumonia, which is an infection of the airspaces of the lung. Many more have never heard of Sepsis, which is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to an infection, or Septic Shock, which is the most severe form of Sepsis when an individual’s Blood Pressure is dangerously low and oxygen does not get to the bodies tissues leading to organ injury and possibly death.

Infections like Pneumonia or Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) are the most common causes of Sepsis. Of the two, Sepsis from Pneumonia is more likely to lead to death, making Ms. Goldberg’s announcement all the more gratifying that her medical care was able to prevent such a terrible outcome. Though we do not know what less severe injuries she may have sustained and certainly wish her a speedy and complete recovery.

With the news of Whoopi Goldberg’s illness and recovery it is important to remind people that Pneumococcal Pneumonia, one of the most common causes of Pneumonia can be prevented by Vaccination. Pneumococcal vaccination is recommended by the CDC for children less than 2 and adults 65 and older as well as all individuals with certain medical conditions or who smoke cigarettes. It is also important to note, as we enter Flu Season that pneumonia can be a complication of the Flu which all individuals should consider receiving the Flu Vaccine as early in the season as practical.

Infections are common. Sepsis can result from nearly any significant infection. Know the signs:

– Rapid breathing and fast heartbeat
– Pale or mottled skin
– Confusion or sleepiness
– Fever and chills
– Feeling the sickest you’ve ever felt
– Extreme pain

It’s International Infection Prevention Week!

Wash Your Hands – It’s Easy and It Saves Lives

As International Infectious Disease Week is upon us it is critically important to remember that most infections can be prevented by simply washing your hands. You can protect yourself, your family and everyone around you by using soap and water.

When you have a cold, the flu or are not feeling well, wash.

Do the same when you are around someone or taking care of someone else that feels the same way.

Before you treat a wound, wash your hands and make sure you wash the wound and wash your hands again after.

You know the drill! After using the bathroom, changing a dirty diaper, touching a questionable surface, using cutting boards and the list goes on.

Let’s make the common sense approach a lot more common!

Because it stops the spread of germs and is the most effective method to stop the spread of disease.

We Honor Jay and Sue Stull: True Leaders in the Sepsis Community

Jay and Sue Stull are true inspirations to us here at the Foundation. After Sue’s battle with sepsis left her a quadruple amputee, they began a quest to raise awareness of sepsis and ensure others were spared their fate. We are proud to present their story.

Jay and Sue were “Living the Dream” in Choctaw, Oklahoma along with their sons, Tyler and Devin, and three dogs (four-legged kids actually), Kia, TJ and Tonka. Jay met Sue in 1999 while stationed at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia and as they say the rest is history. Jay retired from the United States Air Force in 2010 after serving 26 years, including 3 deployments, and they stayed in the local area so Tyler and Devin could finish high school in Choctaw.

Sue was a Circulation Clerk at the Choctaw Public Library, her “dream” job considering she is an avid reader with an out-going personality. She worked there for 18 months before getting ill in August 2014. With the upcoming school year just 2 weeks away, Jay, Sue and Devin went to an afternoon movie and dinner on Sue’s day off. Late evening on Wednesday, August 6, 2014 Sue started experiencing fever/chills, body pain, particularly in her neck, and a sore throat. She continued feeling ill on Thursday, unable to sleep and experiencing restlessness throughout the day and evening. Little did we know that our lives would forever be changed in just a few short days and that this would be the last time we would have a “normal” family outing.

Jay took her to the ER at approximately 1:30 AM on Friday where she was seen in less than 10 minutes. During this examination, Sue’s heart rate was 117, her blood pressure was 91/54, she rated her pain a 9 out of 10, was slightly dehydrated, and had little to no urine output. Although she did not have a fever at the time of this ER visit, she had alternated between chills and a fever of 101.1 to 102.1 during the previous 24 hours, which was reported to the ER staff. After testing negative on a rapid strep throat test, the ER doctor diagnosed Sue with a viral infection and prescribed cough syrup with Codeine…despite showing several symptoms of sepsis and even the onset of severe sepsis, the ER doctor failed to recognize all of these critical red flags and as a result our lives would be changed forever!

On Friday, Sue felt worse on Friday, but the doctor told us she would feel worse before she started feeling better. By Saturday morning, Sue had started experiencing nauseousness and diarrhea, so Jay rushed her back to the ER a second time. Despite excruciating pain and severe weakness, Sue insisted on not using a wheelchair, instead walking into the ER with a tremendous amount of assistance from Jay. Within 5-10 minutes of checking into the ER, Sue walked to the examining room, again with a tremendous amount of assistance from Jay. Unbeknownst to us, this would be the last time Sue would ever walk on her own two feet…

The second ER doctor said he thought Sue had urosepsis from a urinary tract infection and told us she needed to be transported to the ICU. By now, the pain in Sue’s arms was excruciating and her blood pressure was 68/42. Sue was transported to the ICU by ambulance, sirens blaring and lights flashing. Jay went home to pick up Tyler and they headed to the ICU. Sue was receiving broad spectrum IV antibiotics and pain killers, which masked the criticality of her condition and gave us a false sense of security…no one in the ICU told Jay how sick Sue really was. At Sue’s urging, Jay and Tyler left for home shortly after 6:00 PM with strict orders to get something to eat, rent a movie and bring Sue’s Nook on Sunday so she could read.

When he got home, Jay started researching sepsis, high heart rate, low blood pressure, and no urine output and was horrified by what he was reading! The symptoms for septic shock were consistent with what Sue presented, including no urine output and dangerously low blood pressure. The mortality rate for people in septic shock was 40%-70%! How could this be? Sue was in a fight for her life…Jay immediately left to go back to the ICU to be with Sue. He arrived shortly after 9:30 PM and stayed with Sue until 2:30 AM, ensuring she was sleeping soundly before the nurse told him to go home and get some rest.

Jay arrived back at the ICU at approximately 9:00 AM Sunday morning to spend the day with Sue. He was shocked when Sue’s RN quickly pulled him aside and explained that she had crashed and was now on a ventilator. The reality that Sue had at best a 50% chance of survival hit Jay hard, and after spending some time with Sue he began the dreaded process of notifying family. Jay spent the next 30 hours by Sue’s bedside, vowing to not let her be by herself again…he lived in the hospital for pretty much the next 30 days.

Sue and Jay were in an all-out war on sepsis! If Sue was going to survive, this was going to be a 24/7 proposition until further notice. Relying on his military background, Jay established a strict set of rules for Sue’s ICU room. Unless directed by a doctor or nurse to leave the room, Sue was never to be left alone. Negativity and crying were not allowed in her room; if you wanted to cry, that was fine, but do it in the waiting room. Do not wear black-colored clothing in her room as this signifies death, instead wear bright or colorful shirts, or better yet your Team Sue shirt.

After 3 days in the ICU, doctors told us to say our final goodbyes as Sue was given less than a 5% chance of survival…her kidneys had failed, her lungs had failed, her liver had failed, she had a heart attack and 10 ounces of fluid on her left lung. At approximately 7:00 PM on Tuesday, August 12th, Jay told Sue about the infection that was ravaging her body and let her know that if she didn’t want to fight any more she just needed to let him know. Sue shot Jay a dirty look that said loud and clear she wasn’t ready to give up. A few minutes later our prayers for a “miracle of miracles” arrived in the form of an intravenous immunoglobulins (IVIG) treatment. Sue was administered the IVIG treatment Tuesday evening and by Wednesday morning her platelet count had significantly increased and other key blood components showed signs of stabilizing.

Over the next 10 days, Sue’s condition gradually improved, but it became readily apparent that she would require bilateral below-elbow and bilateral below-knee amputations…Sue would be a quadruple amputee! Following her amputations in September 2014, Sue was admitted to the Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation Center Southwest Complex to begin the grueling recovery process. She spent 30 days at Jim Thorpe where her therapists did a phenomenal job re-teaching her how to do the most basic tasks and strengthening her body for the next step in her recovery, the long and arduous process of prosthetic legs and arms.

In mid-November, Sue and Jay headed to the Center for Intrepid in San Antonio TX for physical therapy, occupational therapy, and prosthetics. A dedicated and awesome group of professionals helped jump start Sue’s recovery. On December 10, 2014, less than 3 months after her amputations, Sue walked for the first time on her prosthetic legs! Sue and Jay returned home for the Christmas break and quickly realized that home is where they needed to be. While this was initially a major setback, it soon became obvious there was a different plan in store for us.

In the middle of January 2015, Sue and Jay met with Hanger Clinic to discuss prosthetic care options. Sue started lower extremity prosthetics with Hanger in early February and by May she was walking over a mile around our neighborhood. While Sue has regained her mobility with her prosthetic legs, the upper extremity process would prove significantly more difficult. She completed occupational therapy at Jim Thorpe Northwest Rehabilitation Center in March 2016 and now uses her myoelectric hands as needed for specific tasks. Sue has shown an incredible will to live in beating septic shock and reclaiming her life and independence back has proven that no obstacle is too big to overcome!

We encourage everyone to be an advocate for their own healthcare, to understand the signs and symptoms of sepsis, what constitutes a high heart rate and low blood pressure, and ask questions. If you exhibit the signs of sepsis and don’t feel well, go to the ER, request a blood test, and don’t be afraid to ask if it could be sepsis…

Over the past 5 years, we’ve worked hard to raise sepsis and limb loss awareness, and in 2018 we were honored with a Global Sepsis Award. Along the way we’ve skydived, rode the OKC rapids, swam with manatees, walked in several 5Ks, hiked Gloss State Mountain, and most importantly lived our life!

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