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My sore throat and ‘winter cold’ made me fight for my life with stealth killer

A STUDENT was left behind and fought for his life after a “winter cold” led to the deadly condition sepsis.

Jemma Butler, 20, did not worry so much when she thought she had contracted a viral infection from the school where she was placed.

Jemma Butler before she got sepsis in November 2019


Jemma Butler before she got sepsis in November 2019
Jemma said she will never forget the 'overwhelming feeling that I was going to die'


Jemma said she will never forget the ‘overwhelming feeling that I was going to die’

Within a week, she was unable to get out of bed and was shaking uncontrollably.

She returned home to Staffordshire, where her parents could take care of her as her condition worsened, leaving her severely ill, clammy and struggling for breath.

Jemma said, “The most unbearable symptom that I will never forget was the overwhelming feeling that I was going to die.”

Jemma ended up being rushed to the hospital when ambulance personnel realized she had sepsis, a condition that can kill in a matter of hours.

Sepsis occurs when an infection in the body – in Jemma’s case a throat infection – causes a chain reaction.

The immune system overreacts to the defect and begins to attack the body, leading to organ failure.

Jemma said: “Many people have never heard of sepsis, or if they have, they are often confused about what it is and what signs to keep an eye on.

“But sepsis kills 48,000 people in the UK every year, which is more than deaths from breast, bowel and prostate cancer combined.

“If it is not treated immediately, like a medical emergency, it can take someone’s life in less than 24 hours.

“I feel extremely lucky to be alive.”

Jemma was in the first year of her degree at Durham University, which involved a placement at a primary school when her symptoms started in November 2019.

Like in many schools, mistakes and viruses often went around, so Jemma was not shocked when she started to feel a little out of place.

She said: “I rested in bed and expected to feel better within a few days.”

But within a week, her symptoms were “unbearable” and she became more worried.

She said: “I was unable to get out of bed and take a shower. My body was weak and I was unable to stand without my legs shaking uncontrollably.

“I slept with the window wide open, even though it was mid-November, to try to control my violent temperature and deep sweating.

“I knew something was seriously wrong and decided to seek help.”

After calling 111, Jemma was told to go to the emergency room, where it was discovered that her heart rate was rising and her temperature was 41 C.

After two paracetamol drops, Jemma’s temperature dropped and she was sent home with a course of antibiotics for a week.

Although she was still unable to leave her bed, Jemma began to improve a little.

‘I thought I would die’

With two weeks left of college time, it was decided that Jemma would have to travel home to her parents to recover.

Jemma said, “Two days after I got home, I was seriously aggravated.

“I was unable to eat again and I had developed a swelling on the right side of my jaw, which meant I could not open my mouth more than a few inches wide.

“It was extremely disabling and frightening when I felt like I had lost control of my body.”

The pain became so severe that Jemma’s mother took her to the emergency room again at another hospital, where she was diagnosed with jaw.

The next day, the pain in her jaw and throat was even worse, and she tried to talk to her doctor, who referred her to the hospital again.

Jemma said: “When we drove home from the GPs to pick up a bag for the hospital, I was terribly ill.

“When I got home, I was not able to stand again when I was so weak.

“I went into my parents’ room and lay down on their bed. I was sweating profusely while shaking too. My skin was pale, spotty and clammy.

“My heart was pounding and I was having a hard time breathing.”

Symptoms of sepsis that can come on quickly include chills and chills, a rapid heartbeat and breathing, dizziness, vomiting, slurred speech and confusion.

Jemma’s parents called for an ambulance, and when paramedics arrived, they explained that they thought she had sepsis and should be taken to the hospital.

In resus, the doctors confirmed the diagnosis and she immediately received antibiotics through a drip.

Early treatment is crucial with sepsis, as health authorities say “every hour counts” with the rapidly advancing condition.

Jemma said: “The rapid diagnosis of sepsis at this time along with antibiotics is without a doubt what saved my life.

“The next part of my hospital trip will be a blur when I was so sick I can not remember the details.”

After scans and tests, doctors discovered that Jemma had Lemierre’s syndrome, a rare complication of an infection.

The chances of getting Lemierre’s are about one in a million.

In people with Lemierre syndrome, the first infection spreads to tissues and deep spaces in the neck, leading to the formation of an infected clot.

The infected blood clot then circulates in the blood, which can lead to sepsis or blood clots in the lungs.

An ultrasound examination showed that Jemma had a blood clot in her neck, which as part of the treatment was solved with blood-thinning medication.

After 13 days in the hospital, Jemma was able to return home, but the sepsis had some long-term effects – as is the case for 40 percent of people diagnosed.

Jemma said: “Three months after leaving the hospital, my hair started to fall out. I realized it is a symptom of post-sepsis syndrome that many patients go through after getting well.

“Two years later, and my hair continues to fall out and grow back in a cycle. Every piece of hair that grows back reminds me how strong my body is to have undergone such a trauma.

“Even though my hair falling out has its own challenges for me personally, I remind myself how many people die of sepsis each year and how lucky I am to still be alive, so it’s a small price to pay . “

Jemma was able to return to university two months after becoming ill, in January 2020, and continue her teaching studies.

Jemma, pictured in January 2021, was found to have a throat infection that triggered sepsis


Jemma, pictured in January 2021, was found to have a throat infection that triggered sepsis
Jemma, pictured with his two sisters, said his hair falls out as a long-term side effect of having sepsis


Jemma, pictured with his two sisters, said his hair falls out as a long-term side effect of having sepsis
Jemma with her sisters and parents


Jemma with her sisters and parents


Sepsis is the immune system’s overreaction to an infection or injury that becomes life – threatening.

In sepsis, the immune system attacks the body’s own organs and tissues.

If left untreated, sepsis can result in organ failure and death. But with early diagnosis, it can be treated with antibiotics.

Five people die from sepsis every hour in the UK, and there are between 48,000 and 52,000 deaths a year.

Of those who survive, 40 percent have life-changing long-term effects.

According to the Sepsis Trust, the symptoms are:

Senticed speech or confusion

Eextreme chills or muscle aches

Pno urine

Seternal shortness of breath

Iit feels like you’re going to die

Sgenus spotted or discolored

A child may have sepsis if he or she:

  • Breathe very fast
  • Have a ‘seizure’ or cramps
  • Looks spotty, bluish or pale
  • Has a rash that does not fade when you press it
  • Is very lethargic or difficult to wake up
  • Feels abnormally cold to the touch

A child under the age of 5 may have sepsis if he or she:

  1. does not feed
  2. Vomiting repeatedly
  3. Have not urinated for 12 hours
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