Sepsis education at Motlow: The Legacy of John J. Smith

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Motlow’s Debra Smith, who knows firsthand the heartache that sepsis can bring, helps originate the first annual Think Sepsis First conference to promote awareness

LYNCHBURG, TN (Aug. 30, 2019) – On Sept. 13 at Nisbett Center on the Moore County campus, Motlow State will hold the first annual Think Sepsis First conference. The event will focus on educating caregivers and healthcare providers concerning the seriousness and the warning signs and symptoms of sepsis, a life-threatening condition that arises when the body's response to infection causes injury to its own tissues and organs.

Motlow employee Debra Smith never thought that sepsis would take the life of her beloved husband John. Like thousands of caregivers in similar situations, she knew something was terribly wrong just days after John had undergone a surgical procedure; she just did not know what. She and her family were not aware of sepsis and its symptoms.

In the wake of John’s passing, Debra is determined to not let his death be in vain.

After this heartbreaking event for our family, it was clear to me that awareness of sepsis is not common, even among healthcare providers. The number one killer of hospital patients is not common knowledge.
— Debra Smith, Motlow interim Dean of Students

“After this heartbreaking event for our family, it was clear to me that awareness of sepsis is not common, even among healthcare providers. The number one killer of hospital patients is not common knowledge,” said Debra emphatically. “We didn’t know that it killed more people than breast cancer, prostate cancer, and AIDS combined. When you ask people what sepsis is, they typically think it is an older person’s disease. But the facts are that It is also the number one killer of children, and anyone with an infection can get sepsis.”

Although John J. Smith’s sepsis diagnosis came too late, Debra is committed to increasing sepsis awareness and education within the public sector and medical community to help prevent tragedies like the one she and her family have experienced.

Debra went to Motlow’s Dean of Nursing and Allied Health, Pat Hendrix, with the idea for increasing awareness through allied health scholarships. “I didn’t want a Motlow nurse to graduate without knowing the symptoms and protocol for sepsis.” Pat immediately responded with an idea for a conference to specifically provide sepsis education. Through Hendrix’s leadership and direction, a committee of Motlow nursing faculty and staff was assembled, and the conference idea became a reality. Currently there are over 330 people from the middle Tennessee region that are registered to attend the conference that will begin at 8:15 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 13.

“Motlow is excited to provide a sepsis awareness conference for students and the community,” said Hendrix. “It is imperative that all current and future healthcare providers are educated and motivated to “Think Sepsis First.” We greatly appreciate the tremendous support of the conference from the healthcare community and the family of John J. Smith. Our goal is to save lives through sepsis education.”

According to information published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the symptoms of sepsis can include any one or a combination of the following:

• Confusion or disorientation

• Fever, or shivering or feeling very cold

• Shortness of breath

• High heart rate

• Extreme pain or discomfort

• Clammy or sweaty skin

People who are at a higher risk of infection and sepsis are:

• Adults 65 years or older

• People with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease, cancer and kidney disease

• People with weakened immune systems

• Children younger than one

Sepsis is a medical emergency where time is of the essence, since mortality from the condition increases by as much as eight percent for every hour that treatment is delayed. As many as 80 percent of sepsis deaths could be prevented with rapid diagnosis and treatment.

“Our children and I are compelled to advocate on John’s behalf and on the behalf of other patients in similar situations,” added Smith. “John would have done this for us. John Smith was a person of value. A person with a heart and love for others. A person who made a difference.”

Which is exactly what Debra Smith is working to do for the rest of her life concerning sepsis education.

To register and for more information about the conference, go to www.mscc.edu/thinksepsis.