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16th September 2021

Power Over Sepsis

“Knowledge is power,” says 23-year-old graduate Poppy Downes. “I had no idea what sepsis was when I developed symptoms at a dance festival four years ago. It just shows how important it is to be educated about it.”

“It was in 2017, so I was 19,” Poppy tells This Is MedTech. “I had a urinary tract infection so went to my doctor, who gave me a three-day course of antibiotics and sent me on my way. When it persisted, I went back to the doctor and was given another three-day course.”

But the antibiotics didn’t clear the infection and Poppy was left with the dilemma of missing her long-planned trip to a summer dance festival or soldiering on. She decided to take the risk.

“On the day that I got there I was in agonising pain and wasn’t really passing any urine,” Poppy recalls. “I had a dull ache and a horrible pain in my abdomen and flanks.” Then during the first night Poppy was up all night with a fever and chills. “I was freezing but had a really high temperature,” Poppy continues.

Hoping to be given something to address the pain so she could continue to enjoy the festival, Poppy went to the medical tent. But the festival’s healthcare team gave her fluids and sent her straight to hospital.

“The first doctor that I saw in the hospital thought I had appendicitis,” Poppy remembers. However, it soon became apparent that Poppy’s urinary tract infection had spread to her kidneys, and she was diagnosed with pyelonephritis. What Poppy didn’t know at the time was that she had also developed sepsis, a life-threatening overreaction of the immune system to an infection whereby the immune system attacks the body’s own organs and tissues. If not treated immediately, sepsis can result in organ failure and death.

Seriously ill, Poppy was hospitalised for a week while the medical team battled with her infection and sepsis. She was treated with IV antibiotics and received morphine for the pain. Regular blood tests helped her medical team to monitor her progress.

“It was only after I came out of hospital that I really realised how poorly I had been,” Poppy says. “My mum read my discharge notes and just burst into tears.” Thankfully, an ultrasound scan performed just before Poppy left hospital showed there was no lasting damage to her kidneys.

As she recovered from post-sepsis syndrome, Poppy became a volunteer for The UK Sepsis Trust to enable others to learn from her experience. During Sepsis Awareness Month, Poppy shares her story with This Is MedTech.

“I was so lucky, considering I had no idea about sepsis: I didn’t know what it was and that it can be fatal. It just shows how important it is that people are educated on it. I am so aware that I am one of the lucky ones,” Poppy reflects.

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