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Kim's sepsis story

Kim Smith lives life with a smile on her face despite the life-changing consequences of having her hands and legs amputated because of sepsis.

Kim became ill while in Spain and, if it hadn’t been for the intervention of her determined family and a doctor who arrived from Germany as part of an air ambulance team, she might not have survived.

She had been on holiday in Alicante with husband, Steve, when she started suffering from back pain. Thinking it might be a urine or kidney infection she went to a local hospital where she was given an X-ray and told she hadn’t broken anything but was given no medication or further checks.

The following day her condition worsened so she went to a doctor who diagnosed a urine infection and prescribed antibiotics. The local chemist didn’t have them in stock and asked her to return the following day by which time her condition had again deteriorated.

Kim, from Milton Keynes, was 56 when she became ill. She said: “I had cold hands and feet, severe breathlessness and was shivering. I had a temperature but was so cold I knew I was very ill and it was more than just a kidney infection. I felt like I was dying.”

What was happening was that her body was going into septic shock.

She said: “On the 29th November 2017 I woke at about 4am telling my husband I needed to go to hospital. Luckily, I spoke enough Spanish to let them know I felt very ill. I thought I was going die.

“They admitted me immediately and took my clothes and jewellery and gave them to my husband saying ‘she won’t need these, she could die’. I was taken to intensive care, had a tracheotomy, put into an induced coma and life support and had kidney dialysis because my kidneys failed.

“My husband didn’t speak Spanish and didn’t know what to do. He phoned my daughters and my mum who got the next available flight from Gatwick to Alicante. When they came to see me the next morning they were shocked. When they pulled the sheet back to hold my hand it was purple.”

Despite Kim’s condition, her travel insurance company were unhelpful when her daughter tried to arrange an air ambulance to get her home to the UK telling her ‘we can’t foresee why she can’t travel home by commercial airline’.

Kim was in a coma for almost six weeks and after repeated interventions by her daughter the travel insurer eventually agreed to send an air ambulance.

The doctor who accompanied it told her husband ‘I don’t know how they work here, but we don’t work like this. If I don’t move her now she will be dead in two days – I will take her life in my hands’.

Kim was taken to the critical care department at Milton Keynes University Hospital where, in addition to sepsis, it was found that she had serious pressure sores from her stay in the Spanish hospital.

After a further two weeks in a coma, she was awakened and, once stable, was advised her hands and legs had turned black and would have to be amputated to which she replied: “Yes, I know, it’s fine get them off.”

Kim was transferred to Bedford hospital where her hands and legs, above the knee, were removed in one operation. Several months rehabilitation in hospital followed before she was able to return home.

Despite all the trauma and the effects on her day-to-day life, Kim says: “I’ve always got a smile on my face. I’m alive, I have an amazing, supportive family and why wouldn’t I smile?

“My mission in life is to warn everyone about sepsis. I’m lucky I survived it, I know so many haven’t. I want better education so people know to seek urgent treatment.

“Anything that can cause an infection – from something as small as a paper cut to a urine infection or flu – can lead to sepsis if there’s a reaction which makes the immune system go into overdrive.

“In my case, my kidneys failed, I had to have dialysis, I was on life support and, at the start, Steve and I thought I just needed antibiotics. Can you imagine my husband being told his wife could die, all alone in a foreign country?

“I’m lucky I survived to tell my story. Please remember the symptoms or if you have an infection, Google the symptoms of sepsis because it needs URGENT medical treatment. If you’re unsure, just ask: “Could It Be Sepsis?” 

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