JAZZ singer Natalie Rushdie had only a vague idea of what deadly sepsis was – until she got it.
The mother of one said: “I was naive. I thought sepsis was for old people and that you got it in the hospital – but that’s not the case.
“If you have an infection, it can lead to sepsis. Anyone can get sepsis.”
It is sometimes called septicemia or blood poisoning, and more specifically is a serious consequence of septicemia when your immune system goes into overdrive to fight a bacterial infection or poisoning in the bloodstream.
This can lead to damage to healthy tissue and organs, organ failure and even death.
Within five days of contracting Covid in 2021, the 36-year-old from London said she was “getting massively worse” as she developed sepsis, adding: “I just fell off a cliff.”
Natalie, the daughter-in-law of writer Salman Rushdie, became disoriented, didn’t know who she was, had difficulty breathing and kept losing consciousness.
She said: “We had to wait half an hour for an ambulance and my husband Zafar told them: ‘I don’t think she will survive that long’.”
Sepsis kills more than five people an hour in the UK – that’s 48,000 deaths a year.
More people worldwide die from it than from breast, colon and prostate cancer combined, although 25 percent of deaths are preventable.
Colin Graham, from the charity Sepsis Research FEAT, said: “Sepsis is the leading preventable cause of death worldwide and can have life-changing consequences for survivors.”
Singer Lily Allen and Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington were treated for sepsis after miscarriages, and Carol Vorderman has spoken of being just hours away from death from the condition.
The Government is considering introducing the ‘Martha Rule’ to make it easier for families to seek a second medical opinion in England.
This came after 13-year-old Martha Mills died of sepsis in 2021 after doctors missed key signs and failed to transfer her to the intensive care unit soon enough.
Few of us know what causes sepsis, and diagnosis can be delayed.
Even medical professionals sometimes don’t recognize the signs.
Natalie shares her story ahead of World Sepsis Day tomorrow. She ended up in London’s Charing Cross Hospital twice before finally receiving a diagnosis.
At this point she was on the verge of death.
Natalie said: “Looking back it was pretty obvious I had all the symptoms – vomiting, diarrhoea, I couldn’t get up from the floor. But A&E was completely overrun.”
During her first hospitalization, doctors struggled to draw her blood and she lost consciousness, prompting the emergency button to go off.
Natalie recalled: “I was given calcium, told I had Covid, which I knew, and to go home. I was young, I would recover. That was it.
“I knew something was wrong, but you think, ‘If they think I can go home…'” . .’ and I was happy to return to my seven-month-old daughter Rose, whom I was still breastfeeding.”
The next day, Natalie’s oxygen levels dropped.
She said: “I became disoriented, started shaking very badly and couldn’t breathe.”
Her husband Zafar, 43, a PR guru and son of author Salman, called the Covid center, which Natalie had seen the day before, and was told to wait for an ambulance.
Natalie said: “Zaf was holding Rose and they said, ‘Put the speaker on, we’ll tell you how to do CPR.’
“I was completely wrong.”
Luckily, she was taken to the hospital where she underwent numerous tests.
Natalie said: “I love the NHS, they saved my life, but a nurse said to me: ‘I know it’s hard being a first-time mum but you have to go home and look after your baby ‘.”
“At this point I was physically dying.
“I said, ‘Rose is my everything.
“I can’t go home, I’m dying.”
“One symptom that many sepsis survivors talk about is the belief that you are dying.”
Within an hour, further tests were carried out and Natalie was admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit for intensive observation.
She said: “It took 48 hours of tests to decide I was really sick.”
Natalie was given nebulizers, oxygen, steroids, antibiotics, calcium, vitamin D – everything there was – and it was still a breeze.
Natalie recalled: “I asked the counselor, ‘Will I survive?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know’.”
Natalie then took part in a groundbreaking drug trial.
She said: “My immune system was working overtime, it was destroying me, so they destroyed it.”
The treatment was successful, but it took a year and a half for her to recover from her two-week ordeal.
She said: “When I was released I was wheeled out.
“Looking back, I probably should have stayed longer, but I really wanted to go home to Rose.
“I had damaged liver, kidneys, lungs and heart and my blood was not right.
“I had a lot of trauma, flashbacks and nightmares.
“Every day in the hospital was the same and I had no visitors. Everything blurs.”
Natalie wants everyone to know the signs and, if they feel unwell, to ask doctors a question that could save their lives: Do I have sepsis?
She said: “If you get sepsis early enough, you will be given antibiotics and you will survive.”
“The problem is that people don’t catch it early enough, so I’m constantly asking myself, ‘Do I have sepsis?’
“It points to the possibility.”
Sepsis Research FEAT, of which Natalie is an ambassador, launches a survey to transform diagnosis and recovery.
It invites everyone affected to have a say and define the ten priorities of sepsis research.
The co-leader of the project, Dr. Bronwen Connolly, from Queen’s University Belfast, said: “Sepsis is a devastating condition with far-reaching consequences for patients and their families.
“This study is incredibly important because there are still so many unanswered questions about sepsis for clinicians and researchers.”
Natalie was surprised at how long it took her to recover and continues to worry.
She said: “I have so much trauma.
“Now when I get sick, I freak out very quickly because I think, ‘Oh God, is that it again?’.”
But two years later she is back at work, running after Rose and has released a single in memory of her friend, Sun columnist Dame Deborah James, who died of bowel cancer last year and also suffered from sepsis.
Natalie said: “When you have a moment where you could die, it changes your perspective on life.
“I am very aware that I am very lucky to be here.”
- To take part, the Sepsis Research FEAT survey will be available on World Sepsis Day at sepsisresearch.org.uk.
How to recognize sepsis
SEPSIS is life-threatening and difficult to detect, so treatment may be delayed.
Charity Sepsis Research FEAT says the top five symptoms to look out for are:
Not as much urine is passed as normal.
Have a very high or low temperature.
Cold or spotty arms and legs.
The charity says: “If someone has any of these symptoms and it noticeably worsens, this could be an indication of sepsis and urgent medical attention should be sought.”
There are many possible symptoms, although sepsis can be disguised as a cold or flu.
The NHS recommends calling 999 or going to the emergency department if a baby or young child has:
Blue, gray, pale, or blotchy skin, lips, or tongue. For brown or black skin, check the palms and soles of the feet.
A rash that won’t go away when you roll a glass over it.
Difficulty breathing. For example, grunting noises or the stomach sucking under the ribcage.
Breathlessness or breathing very quickly.
A weak, high-pitched scream that is not normal for her.
Does not respond as usual or has no interest in eating or normal activities.
Being more sleepy than normal or having difficulty waking up.
If an adult or older child’s skin changes color, the rash does not go away, has difficulty breathing, acts confused, has slurred speech or is not making sense, call 999 or go to the emergency room. Trust your gut feeling.