• Article
  • April 21, 2020

Pediatric Sepsis: Victoria's Story

VictoriaOn a Saturday morning, Victoria, age six, woke with what her mother thought was a virus. However, her mother, Judith, wasn’t too worried as the night before she had been doing cartwheels in the neighborhood with friends.

“A virus typically lasts a few days, but by Monday Victoria’s fever hadn’t gone away and she was having trouble breathing. I decided to go to an urgent care center nearby,” Judith recalled.  The doctor ran some tests and called 911 as she was having more trouble breathing. When they arrived at the nearest hospital, Victoria was diagnosed with pneumonia; her heart rate was high and oxygen levels were low. The doctors put Victoria into an induced coma to treat the pneumonia symptoms and administered antibiotics. 

However the antibiotics were not effective and Victoria went into sepsis because her white blood count level was so low. Victoria would go on to experience three cardiac arrests and two respiratory arrests, with her mother by her side. Ultimately, the medical team was able to stabilize Victoria, but her heart rate and fever remained high.

After less than 48 hours, medical staff told Judith that they did not have the equipment to treat Victoria’s severe sepsis. She was transferred to the closest hospital, Holtz Children's Hospital at Jackson Memorial Hospital, that offered Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, or ECMO, a machine that would save Victoria’s life. Everything happened so fast – with doctors taking little time to explain what was happening. 

Upon arrival at the children’s hospital, doctors were in awe of Victoria’s condition, saying that this was the worst case of sepsis they’d seen in a six-year-old. “The doctors at the second hospital were very educated about sepsis, and took time to explain what was happening to my daughter. The PICU nurses were extremely vigilant and alerted me whenever something changed. Their preparedness and knowledge saved my daughter’s life.”  

After more than 17 days on the ECMO machine, 10 days longer than the average seven-days, Victoria began to recover. She underwent three months of rehabilitation in the hospital and continued physical therapy long after. 

Today, Victoria is healthy and still loves doing cartwheels in the backyard. Judith is working to increase awareness about sepsis with the Sepsis Alliance and by sharing her family’s story. She hopes that one day all hospitals will have protocols in place to better educate parents and medical staff on how to best identify sepsis symptoms. 

Sepsis is a leading cause of death in hospitalized children, killing almost 5,000 children annually in the U.S.

Victoria’s story first appeared as a Faces of Sepsis feature at Sepsis.org, the website of Sepsis Alliance. April 19 to April 25, 2020, marks the second annual Pediatric Sepsis Week to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of sepsis in children, recognize the children who develop sepsis each year, and honor those who have passed.

Sharing these sepsis patient stories is part of the Improving Pediatric Sepsis Outcomes collaborative, a multi-year quality initiative to significantly reduce sepsis-related mortality and morbidity across children’s hospitals.