Sharon Vos-Arnold counts herself lucky to be alive. She survived a battle with sepsis – which included two weeks in a coma – after being bitten by an insect in her garden and is telling her story to raise awareness of this serious condition.
Sharon, who lives in Maresfield with husband Chris and ten-year-old daughter Amelie, was in hospital for nearly six weeks, three of them in intensive care.
She underwent two operations on her hand, where she was bitten, but nothing was found to indicate what the bug might have been.
Doctors said later it wasn’t so much what bit her, it was more about what the insect could have been carrying and injected into her bloodstream.
When blood tests were done they identified Streptococcal A bacteria, something that is found everywhere.
On arrival at hospital, four days after Sharon was bitten, her temperature, at 40 degrees, was higher than nurses had ever seen previously.
Her blood pressure was extremely low at 60/30, and she was shivering and shaking. Her lungs were collapsing and she had problems breathing. Her skin was blistered, so was the inside of her mouth and her kidneys were failing.
Sharon lost a small piece of her tongue but she was lucky because there were fears at one stage that she might lose her feet.
What Sharon finds particularly frightening is that at no stage did she realise how ill she was. She had never even heard of sepsis.
Now she knows that 40,000 people die of the condition in the UK each year and she hopes that the part she is playing in raising awareness will lead to early identification of symptoms so that more lives can be saved.
In her case she was hardly aware she had been bitten by an insect. She was working in the garden when what she thought was soil was flicked up into her glove. With her hand still inside she shook out the ‘soil’.
Later she was aware of a pain and realised she had been bitten but didn’t take a lot of notice.
Unfortunately there was some confusion about her symptoms because when she felt ill the next day she thought she was going down with a gastric bug which had briefly affected her husband.
On the Monday she was still feeling ill and by the evening her husband called the doctor but the night service had just started and the couple didn’t think emergency help was needed.
On the Tuesday morning Chris rang the GP who came out after practice. There was still no sense of urgency.
And then the doctor took Sharon’s blood pressure and found it so low he immediately called an ambulance and fast response car and Sharon found herself in intensive care.
“I still didn’t quite grasp how seriously ill I was. I kept going to sleep. Then they said they were going to put me to sleep for a couple of days and I just thought okay, I am really tired.
“I just assumed it would be like having an operation, I’d go to sleep and wake up not knowing anything about what happened and just get back to normal.”
Sharon’s husband hadn’t realised how serious the situation was either. He just thought she needed some antibiotics.
Sharon said: “My poor family must have been to Hell and back. When I woke up I was told my husband had come to see me. I had no idea my whole family had been sitting round my bed for two weeks not knowing whether I would pull through. I couldn’t move at all and I was very confused.”
Sepsis is called the ‘silent killer’ and Sharon now understands why.
One of the things that happened to her was a rash that tracked up her arm on the Monday evening but which was all over her body the following morning.
She had flu-like symptons, a very high temperature and couldn’t stop physically shaking.
People are more susceptible to sepsis if they have problems with their immune system, as Sharon sometimes does, are elderly or very young or have had surgery.
Sharon was taken ill in March and her recovery is slow and painful. At first she could only manage to walk a few steps with the aid of a frame but after intensive home and hospital physiotherapy she is now walking short distances with crutches. She still relies on a wheelchair for longer distances.
She lost 50% of her hair but that has started to re-grow. She has peripheral nerve damage in her hands and feet. She cannot fully close her hands and the nerve damage to this area may be permanent.
It could take another year for Sharon to recover fully from the sepsis but she is grateful to be alive.
Now she hopes that telling her story will prompt others to recognise symptoms of this killer condition, realise how serious they are, and get somebody to hospital in time to save a life.
More facts can be found on the UK Sepsis Trust Facebook page.