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2nd May 2018

Turning pain into passion: How Hospital Acquired Infections changed my life

Linda Proce’s career in disinfection started right on time. It was 2009 and Mexican Bird Flu was in full swing. Her story, however, began eight years earlier.

The year 2001 marked the second time my life was plagued by a hospital acquired infection (HAI). My father, only 57 years of age, succumbed to sepsis after being infected with Streptococcus A bacteria. Two years before, he’d battled the infection and managed to overcome it. But now, he had end-stage heart failure, having survived 12 cardiac arrests. This time around, it proved to be too much for his body to fight.

As a former nurse, I can’t help but think that proper hand hygiene could have prevented this. I say this as someone who once treated patients with similar infections.

My turning point

Three years after losing my dad, my infant daughters would be trapped alone with my dying mother. At almost two and three years old, my daughters wanted to make her look pretty. They dressed her up with doll clothes, toys and ornaments. This is what I was told by the police when I returned home.

You see, following the death of my father (and my own personal health challenges), my mother had urged me to get away and spend time with friends and family. She was so excited to be a grandmother. The cause of her death: Haemolytic Streptococcus A, flesh-eating bacteria. My daughters were carriers of the same type of Streptococcus A, so they received antibiotics immediately.

As you can imagine, I lived in a cocoon for at least five years after that. Grief and guilt will do that to you. But as a daughter, a mother and a nurse, I felt a huge responsibility to make a difference. These experiences had a deep and enormous impact for me personally and professionally. As strange as it may sound, they gave me the added direction I needed.

From nurse to educator

For seven years, I worked as a nurse on the dermatology and oncology ward at a university hospital. I wasn’t Florence Nightingale, but I did try to improve people’s lives. In 2009 I eventually made the transition to commercial healthcare to focus on medical devices. Funnily enough, I was considered for roles in two other divisions at my company, but when I accepted the position in disinfection, it all came full circle for me.

Now, my daily responsibility is to educate, inspire and ensure that hospitals and clinics have the solutions and information they need to fight against HAIs and multi-drug resistant microorganisms. My hope is that everybody can learn about this without having to experience it first-hand like I did.

The World Health Organization says that sepsis is estimated to affect more than 30 million patients every year worldwide, leading to 6 million deaths. Teaching people about good hand hygiene is a big piece of the puzzle. That’s why the focus for World Hand Hygiene Day on May 5th is “It’s in your hands – prevent sepsis in health care”. The aim is to stop infections and save lives by raising awareness and making sure every health worker knows how to prevent sepsis.

The passion I have for my work is one that I carry with me as a patient’s daughter, a mother and as a patient myself. Each experience has contributed to the joy I have for my life’s work. It’s the right mix of pain and purpose that gives shape to my life. I mean, what is life without a little blood, sweat and tears anyway?