Laura Williams said the near-fatal experience had changed her life – and now wants to help others recognise the signs and symptoms of sepsis.
One morning in Feburary 2019, the 39-year-old woke up unwell with vomiting, diarrhoea and tooth ache.
She linked the sickness back to a care home visit she had made two days earlier in her role as a podiatrist, where she had hugged an ill resident.
But two days later she woke up to find her throat so swollen that her neck was the same size as her face.
As she later learned, she had developed Ludwig’s Angina, a very rare bacterial infection which can occur after a tooth abscess, which resulted in sepsis – an extreme immune response to an infection.
Left confused and hallucinating, it took her two hours to get herself dressed to go to the doctor, followed by an emergency dentist appointment, where she was told she needed urgent intravenous antibiotics.
By this point she was ‘shaking uncontrollably’.
“It looked like I was having a fit,” she said, and her parents quickly took her to Royal Sussex County Hospital.
After scans and an x-ray, she underwent surgery to drain her neck, which also involved having three teeth taken out.
“When I woke up, I looked a bit like Frankenstein’s monster crossed with a hamster – my throat was that swollen,” she said.
She remembers hearing a doctor say that had her parents had waited for an ambulance, rather than taking her straight to hospital, she may not have survived. “I was very, very lucky,” she said.
Laura stayed in hospital for four days and was given three months worth of strong antibiotics.
But unfortunately that was not the end of her journey – Laura has since suffered with Post Sepsis Syndrome and also PTSD.
Symptoms she has experienced include fatigue, nightmares, shortness of breath, muscle pain, panic attacks and memory loss.
It was only when she was put on furlough from her job last year that she said she finally had an opportunity to process what she had been through.
She also became inspired her to launch her podcast series called Your Sepsis Stories.
“My main aim is to help others save lives,” she said. “If I can save a single life by sharing mine and other people’s sepsis stories through the podcast, then I survived for a reason.”
The podcast covers the signs of sepsis and what to do if you think somehow has it.
It also features interviews with survivors and their families, bereaved families, and healthcare professionals.
She said talking to her interviewees was ‘very emotional’, but added: “I don’t think I would have got through it if it wasn’t for them, and my other half.”
Laura has also written a children’s book and is currently working on a book for adults to raise awareness around the medical emergency, which she said many people do not know much about.
“Sepsis is an overreaction to an infection. It can be from a rusty nail, it can be from a cut, it can be from an abscess, it can be from surgery,” she said. “There are so many different reasons why you can get sepsis.”
She added: “The biggest takeaway is, if you don’t think something is right, ask. It could be sepsis.
Laura said her experience of sepsis had had a huge impact on her.
“It changed my life,” she said. “The weird thing is, it gave me a purpose.
“Although it was the worst thing that’s happened to me, it’s also the best.”
Your Sepsis Stories can be found on Spotify, Radio Public or Google Podcasts.
What are the signs and symptoms of sepsis?
Sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, is the immune system’s overreaction to an infection or injury.
Normally our immune system fights infection – but sometimes it attacks our body’s own organs and tissues.
If not treated immediately, sepsis can result in organ failure and death. Yet with early diagnosis, it can be treated with antibiotics.
Signs of sepsis include high heart rate or low blood pressure; fever, shivering, or feeling very cold; confusion or disorientation;shortness of breath; extreme pain or discomfort; clammy or sweaty skin.
If you think you have sepsis, seek medical help immediately.
Find out more at The UK Sepsis Trust.