News

July 11, 2024

Joyce Oluwole, sepsis survivor seeks govt action against silent killer

Joyce Oluwole, sepsis survivor seeks govt action against silent killer

…Launches book to advocate for change

…Expert calls for more supportive emergency preparedness

By Sola Ogundipe

A Nigerian sepsis survivor, Joyce Oluwole, has advocated to the Federal government to prioritize tackling sepsis, a life-threatening condition that kills over 11 million people every year.

Sepsis, also known as septicemia or blood poisoning, occurs when the body’s immune system has an extreme response to an infection caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi, which can lead to organ dysfunction, shock, and death.

Speaking in Lagos at the launch of her book titled “My Miraculous Survival After Sepsis”, the 71-year-old who is based in the United Kingdom, narrated how she suffered series of adverse health complications including septic shock, organ failure, stroke, and multiple limb amputations.

Oluwole’s book doesn’t just chronicle her personal struggle. It aims to raise awareness about the condition that is often misdiagnosed or overlooked, particularly in developing countries like Nigeria. Through her advocacy efforts, which include public talks and speeches, she hopes to encourage earlier diagnosis, improve treatment options, and ultimately, save lives.

She recounted how for seven agonizing weeks, she remained in a coma as doctors battled to identify her ailment, and on waking from her coma, she faced the brutal reality of amputation of her legs and fingers.

“Sepsis is a matter of political interest. I was feeling strangely on the 1st of April, 2015, and I had to go to hospital. I went to surgery, but I ended up at the Accident & Emergency. There, they did not discover anything for seven weeks. I was in a coma, and three weeks into my coma, they discovered that I had sepsis of unknown cause.

“They told me that I had it three times. Fortunately for me, I was still in the hospital in those nine months. I’ve read about people who’ve had it 20 times. Within 45 minutes, the patient must be treated, otherwise, the risk of death is real.

‘It was not until a year after, because I continued doing blood tests every day, even after they discharged me, they discovered that I had meningococcal bacteria that is responsible for meningitis. I always thought it was only children who had meningitis, but adults can have it too.

‘During the coma, I had multiple organ failure, I had septic shock, I had a stroke, and so I was taken to intensive care. I was there for four months. I didn’t realize what happened until the fifth month when I was put in a private ward.”

Oluwole who volunteers with the UK Sepsis Trust in England said she wrote the book and produced information leaflets to educate the public about the condition.

“I really hope at some point I can even have it translated into Yoruba, into Hausa, into Igbo, because I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else. So everybody must know about sepsis. It is real.

“So what we’re trying to say is that the symptoms should be taken very seriously. When you have malaria, you’ve treated malaria, and you’ve treated typhoid and it doesn’t go, go to your doctor and say, could it be sepsis? Doctors are treating all other things, they are not treating sepsis.”

Oluwole remarked that sepsis is already a common concern in Nigeria as blood tests are routinely done to check for it but noted that early detection and treatment are crucial for better outcomes.

“So what I would say to everyone, be very vigilant, you, your friends, your neighbors, everybody. Anybody that you see, if they are very sick and have been treated and have had medication, and they’re not better, They should ask questions and go to investigate sepsis.

She noted that the General Hospitals might be better equipped for diagnosing sepsis than private hospitals.

“They have the staff and resources to run the necessary tests. This is important because anyone, regardless of their means, should be able to get checked for sepsis at a General Hospital. We hope that the government will take action to ensure this happens and make sepsis diagnosis readily available.

“We must put the information out there so that the government can do something. We have sepsis here (in Nigeria), people are dying of sepsis here every day but we may not know it s sepsis, and this death can be avoided.

Expert speaks

Giving the medical perspective of sepsis, a medical specialist, Prof Emmanuel Oladipo Otolorin described sepsis as a very bad infection.

“Sepsis is not uncommon. It affects all age groups. Including children, we try to minimize this among children. Because there are some infectious conditions that we can prevent through vaccinations. So we have vaccine-preventable diseases. We’re always shouting about children going for vaccinations.

“It starts as a mild infection, then it becomes a moderate infection starting from a local part of the body. It could be the lungs, the skin, the kidney, or any organ, and then when we ignore it or we don’t recognize it, it then begins to spill the organism that is causing it and now when those pathogens now dominate that local area and they get into the blood, then we have what we call septicemia, which means there are infective organisms inside the blood.

Noting that the pathogen is transmitted all over the body by the blood, Otolorin said a patient could end up with multiple organ failure if not given proper attention.

“The kidney may fail, the lungs may fail, the liver may fail, you might go into a coma because it’s got into your brain, and that’s where, when it gets to that stage, you need the grace of God and the specialist’s attention. In a well-resourced facility.

Lamenting the poor state of emergency preparedness in Nigeria, Otolorin called for more support.

“The emergency preparedness of many of our hospitals is not optimal. I used to work in the University College Teaching Hospital in Ibadan. In my younger days, I could say and boast that we managed sepsis quite well, but these days, you find that things have gone awry. What we need is a supportive system.

“We need the microbiology support. They take your samples, whether it’s urine or blood, go and test it, and determine what organism is causing this. They can determine the sensitivity of the antibiotics to the organism.

“We need radiology to check whether the lungs are functional, we need chemical pathology because they’re going to be checking electrolytes and urine and everything, so you need that kind of supportive system. During the period of illness. If you have kidney failure, they have to do dialysis.

“One of the problems in this country, of course, is that people don’t go to hospital in time, for many reasons and because it’s too expensive. Fear of how much they will have to pay keeps them away, so, many of the hospitals are just receiving people who are terminally ill.

“And in such situations, the only response you can have is for each of those hospitals, particularly teaching hospitals, to have very strong emergency preparedness. People are running away from hospitals because of money and private hospitals, some of them are not affordable,

Common causes of include infections of lungs such as pneumonia, kidney, bladder, and other parts of the urinary system. The digestive system, the bloodstream, catheter sites, wounds, or burns are also implicated.