Gov. Gordon makes September Sepsis Awareness Month after advocacy efforts from a Cheyenne woman
A Cheyenne woman is helping to raise public awareness of sepsis after her 15-month-old grandson died from it in late 2016. Sepsis occurs when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues and can lead to organ failure.
Machelle Stotts has partnered with Sepsis Alliance, which allowed her to meet others who have lost loved ones to the condition. It was through them that their message made it to Gov. Mark Gordon, who will sign a proclamation on Sept. 15 declaring September sepsis awareness month in Wyoming. Their efforts are also focused nationwide, where lobbying efforts are aimed at getting all 50 states to declare September as Sepsis Awareness Month. World sepsis awareness day is Sept. 13.
Stotts’ advocacy efforts began shortly after her grandson died, though she said that the official findings really marked the beginning of her efforts. As he and her husband were looking for a way to share their story and connect with advocacy groups, they came across different sources of information and education like Sepsis Alliance and the Rory Staunton Foundation.
An official proclamation for her signifies a broader societal awareness of a condition which affects about 1.7 million people and is responsible for around 350,000 deaths each year in the U.S. and approximately 20 percent of the world’s total deaths.
“It means that the word sepsis is being said, [and] so many people don't know what sepsis is,” she said. “And when we see people dying of this infection or that infection, the complications, so many times that complication is sepsis, but because the word is never said, people don't know what it is. The fact that the governor is willing to bring a light, a spotlight on sepsis, it's very meaningful for us, because any infection can lead to sepsis--and people need to know what it is.”
Stotts and her husband were raising their 15-month-old grandson, Oliver, known as “Ollie,” after a traumatic brain injury sustained in a car wreck left his mother unable to care for him.
“We don't really know how he got sepsis,” she said. “But he was fine Thanksgiving Day 2016, [and] enjoyed everything that Thanksgiving is all about. The day after he woke up with a high fever and a horrible cough.”
Stotts said Oliver had a cold earlier in the month and had also received a scrape above one of his eyebrows, something she said could have been the source of the infection. They thought Oliver might have had croup.
“I called my daughter who's had a child with croup, and I asked her listen to this cough [asking] ‘Does this sound like croup to you?’” she said. “It doesn't sound like what I would think croup should sound like and she said, ‘No, that does not sound like croup.’ We got off the phone a few minutes after that we were getting him in his pajamas, ready for bed, and he started coughing, and then he started gasping for breath. And I'll never forget the look on his face--it was just pure terror.”
Stotts and her husband took Oliver to the emergency room as a last-ditch attempt to find out what was making their grandson so sick.
“He had a high heart rate, fever, [which are] signs of sepsis,” she explained. “But it was missed. And sadly, Oliver came home and passed away sometime during the night.”
Their family wouldn’t know until weeks later that Oliver had sepsis until they received the autopsy report. It was something she didn’t know anything about.
“And we thought if we could spare anyone from having to go through the anguish and be a life sentence of grief that has been imposed upon us, if we could just save one person, one parent, so they don't know what it feels like to lose a child,” she said.