New ER protocol helps identify sepsis, save lives

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - Every few seconds, someone in the world dies of sepsis. It is one of the most common, often least recognized illnesses.

For the first time, World Sepsis Day is being recognized in an effort to bring awareness and an end to this life-threatening condition.

From his hospital bed, Katy first-grader Austin Papandrea focused on his video game. It's hard to believe just days ago, the 6-year-old was being rushed to Texas Children's Hospital.

Austin told Local 2, "I felt a sharp pain … on my back."

Austin's dad, a 19-year Army veteran, was out of state for training with Austin's mom when they got a call from his grandparents.

"We were shocked because the symptoms hit so hard, so fast and they said he just turned 10 shades of white and looked really bad," Chris Papandrea said. "So that's why there was the rush to get him here."

Turns out, a bad virus led to sepsis.

Dr. Binita Patel is director of quality and safety for Texas Children's Emergency Center.

She explained, "It can be caused by bacteria. It can be caused by viruses. Any infection can lead to overwhelming problems with the body and how it works."

Sepsis occurs when chemicals in the bloodstream used to fight infection trigger inflammation, which can lead to organ failure and possibly death.

Symptoms can be subtle and deceiving such as fever, chills, rapid heart rate and low blood pressure.

TCH critical care specialist Dr. Eric Williams said, "Everybody reacts differently to a simple infection. Some children can become exquisitely ill, whereas someone else just has a runny nose and fever."

Williams added that TCH uses a relatively new computer-based triage system to help recognize sepsis. The fast response likely saved Austin's life.

Patel said, "Immediately, the doctors started giving him fluid through an IV. They started antibiotics and it looked like Austin needed help making sure that his blood pressure was stable. So all of those things done early helps Austin get better quicker."

Austin is now cleared to go home and head back to school.

"He looks like a brand new kid. We're so happy and so thankful that Texas Children's reacted as fast as they did. It was just phenomenal," Chris Papandrea said.

Those most at risk of sepsis include the very young, the very old and those with compromised immune systems.

One of the goals of World Sepsis Day is to reduce the incidences globally by at least 20 percent by 2020.

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