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Surviving Sepsis: Bringing Awareness to Deadly Disease

IOWA  --  It is the leading cause of death from infection.  According to the CDC, Sepsis kills 250,000 Americans every year.  Yet many of us have never even heard of it.

“I had no idea really what that was,” said Dan Twelmeyer.

The husband and father thought he was ringing in 2018 with the flu.

“I was getting a fever and had a really bad headache,” he said.

When those aches and pains turned into trouble breathing, his wife rushed him to the ER.

“I feel like I'm going to die,” described Twelmeyer.

It wasn`t the flu.  It was Sepsis.

“Sepsis is your body's inflammatory response to an infection,” explained Unity Point ER Dr. Brooke Johnson.

Any infection.  In Dan`s case, he got it from the norovirus.

“I've taken care of hundreds of patients with sepsis and unfortunately, it's still a very deadly disease,” said Johnson.

It’s common too.  The Sepsis Alliance says more than 1.7 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with it ever year.

“For every hour that you delay starting antibiotics in someone who has sepsis, you increase the mortality rate by 8% for every hour,” warned Johnson.

Doctors pumped Dan with fluids and antibiotics and after a few days in the hospital, he was back home.

“I just can't imagine if we had waited. hard to imagine and if we had thought, oh, let's just wait overnight and see how you're doing.  I'm not sure he would have made it through the night,” said Chico Twelmeyer, Dan’s wife.

“If it's caught early enough, that can prevent a lot of those horrible things from happening to people,” said Phyllis Bailey.

Unfortunately, her Dad wasn't as lucky.  Bailey’s father, Delbert Weatherly, died from septic shock last August, while being treated for kidney disease.

Blindsided by her father`s death, she put up a billboard in Des Moines to raise awareness about Sepsis.  It stayed up for about three months on Northeast 14th and Euclid.

“It was very emotional for me.  It really was.  It was hard.   It said on there- Victim of Sepsis,” said Phyllis.

Now both Bailey and Twelmeyer are on a mission to get the word out about a disease that has impacted their lives.  One fueled by survival.

“50% of Americans don't know what sepsis is- and when it can be so deadly and so common,”  said Twelmeyer.

The other by loss.

“Definitely to honor my father, but I think honoring him would be to prevent this tragedy from happening to others,” said Bailey.

The Sepsis Alliance has an easy way to recognize the symptoms.  They include Shivering, Extreme pain, Pale or discolored skin, Sleepy or confused state, "I feel like I might die" and Shortness of breath -- S.E.P.S.I.S.