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Lesley Carter was diagnosed with gall stones, a very painful condition but rarely life-threatening. To be told months later by a consultant she had developed sepsis and, if he had not operated when he did, she would not have survived was shocking.

Lesley, 65, from Horley in Surrey, started to feel unwell in early 2019 but struggled on at her work as a secretary despite recurring health issues. Then, driving to work one morning at the beginning of April, she felt to ill she had to return home from where she called her local surgery.

Despite tests, including an electrocardiogram, only heartburn was diagnosed. In July, still feeling ill, Lesley went on a family holiday to Guernsey where her condition deteriorated.

She said: “During the night I got so scared that my husband and sons decided to ask the hotel to call a doctor out.”

The doctor diagnosed gall bladder problems and wanted to admit Lesley to hospital but she just wanted to get back home but, with the sickness worsening, when she got there she contacted the NHS helpline and was told to go to her local A&E at East Surrey Hospital, Redhill.

Lesley said: “At A&E I had all different doctors examining me and had X-rays and a CT scan, blood tests and was asked lots of questions on how I had been feeling and when all the problems had started. I was diagnosed with gall stones and admitted to a ward.”

Lesley had surgery to remove her gall bladder which had perforated but her consultant informed her they could not remove the back of the infected organ because it would have been too dangerous.

It was during that conversation that sepsis was mentioned for the first time. Lesley said: “He also told me my lungs had been damaged due to the pressure of my gall bladder and he arranged to have a special breathing apparatus to help get my lungs back to normal. He also told me I had sepsis and might need another drain put in to remove any septic fluid still inside me.”

Then, just as Lesley was told by her consultant that they were looking at moving her out of the High Dependency Unit (HDU) and onto a ward ready to be discharged, there was a dramatic turn for the worse.

“The air conditioning stopped working in the HDU and the temperature was 30plus. My heart rate went sky high, I was sick, I felt very lightheaded. They got me back into bed quickly and called for the doctor and asked if they could call my next of kin. I can’t remember much after that other than I had an ECG and lots of other tests. To this day no one has ever told me what happened, whether it was my heart or septic shock or both. I remember having more drugs pumped into me and I know they were really worried because the ward sister told me later that day, they thought they were going to lose me.”

Lesley remained in the HDU while further scans and treatment continued. A build-up of septic fluid was identified and another operation was required so it could be drained. She was eventually discharged on the 8th of August after about two weeks in hospital.

At a follow-up appointment with her consultant in October she learned how close she had come to dying. “He told me that when he saw me on the ward on the Monday 22nd July he cancelled a meeting scheduled for that afternoon because if he had not operated when he did I would not have survived the day because I was so ill with the perforated gall bladder and sepsis.”

Lesley still has to use breathing apparatus to help her lungs and takes heart medication because of the sepsis. She also suffers from fatigue: “Some days I feel I have no energy. I still have good and bad days with flashbacks to my time in hospital. I really thought I was going to die, I was scared and thought I wouldn’t see my family or dogs for much longer.”

Since sepsis, Lesley’s outlook has changed: “Up until now I’ve let the seriousness of my illness rule my life. I know I should have spoken to someone earlier and it might have helped me sooner but writing my story for Sepsis Research has really made me see that I can’t let what happened last year stop me enjoying my life again.”

Lesley added: “Raising awareness of sepsis and its symptoms will save lives and I urge people to support Sepsis Research FEAT in its efforts to raise funds to increase that awareness and provide financial backing for the vital research project it is backing into finding better ways to stop sepsis.”

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