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Septic Shock Put Me in the Hospital for a Year: Vala Hallgrimson’s Story

Sep 27, 2023 |

By Vala Hallgrimson, Amputee Coalition Certified Peer Visitor and Lead Advocate

When it comes to sepsis, remember it’s about TIME! Temperature – Infection – Mental Decline – Extremely ill. I wish I had known that when Sepsis overtook me. Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. It is a life-threatening medical emergency. 

January 21, 2018, I was feeling great during the day. I came home from a meeting at 8:00pm and was cold and couldn’t get warm, so I went to bed. I slept for 24 hours without getting up to even go to the bathroom; my kidneys were failing. I couldn’t even call my boss to say I would not be in.  

When I woke up, I had a temperature of 103, and my hands and feet hurt. My husband called 911. I had no cuts, scrapes, injuries, or open wounds. The paramedics came and decided I had the flu. I was told to take Tylenol to get my temperature down and they left. I took Tylenol, slept for 4 hours, retook Tylenol, and woke up an hour or so later deathly ill. My husband called 911 again, and the same paramedics came back. This time, I went to the hospital.  

Remember I talked about TIME. Each hour you do not get treatment, your chance of survival decreases by 8%. It took a while for the doctors to diagnose me, as my veins were collapsing, so they could not get blood for testing, and my kidneys were failing. They finally took blood from my jugular vein on my neck. I had blisters all over my body, down my throat, and up my nose. It hurt to even try to talk. They told my family I probably would not make it through the night. Luckily, I don’t remember any of this or anything else for the next 3 ½+ months. The only thing I remember, other than what I had been told, was when I opened my eyes and saw my brother, who lives in North Dakota I thought, “Oh, I guess this is more serious than I thought, as I live in Seattle.” There was a time I do remember seeing a body in the doorway, but I couldn’t see the face because of the background light from the hallway. I thought it was my gastroenterologist, who had saved my life 10 years earlier and I always felt safe around him. 

I made it through the night and many more, but they were difficult. I ended up with gangrene….my feet, fingers/one thumb, and the end of my nose were black. My tongue even turned black. I thought I would lose my tongue. It was so scary what sepsis did to me. The surgeons would need to remove the gangrenous parts of my body, but they had to wait. My body needed time to heal. My surgeries didn’t start until June 20th 

On June 20th, I had five surgeons working on me simultaneously. Five days later, I was diagnosed with sepsis again! I was in the ICU, but this time I was in the right place, and it was caught early on. I am now an amputee with a left below the knee amputation, right partial foot, partial fingers/thumb on the right hand, and partial fingers on the left hand. I have scars on my nose, but my tongue stayed intact! I have scars all over my body from all the blisters. But I am lucky, I am alive.  

It was a long recovery. I spent four months in a rehab facility learning to walk with my new prosthetic leg and use my prosthetic fingers/hand. Remember I started this ordeal January 21, 2018, and came home December 9, 2018! Almost a full year! 

I wonder if I would still have all my extremities if I had gone to the ER when the paramedics came the first time. Maybe. I got very sick, very fast. I am one of the lucky ones, I am just happy to be alive.  

Remember, early detection provides the best chance for survival and recovery. I am now very passionate about getting information out there to the public. I have had two surgeries since I had sepsis, and I made sure every nurse and doctor knew I had experienced sepsis earlier because if you have had it once, you are more susceptible to getting it again. I have had it twice!  

About four months into this experience, with sepsis, I asked my husband if my gastro doctor had come to see me. He told me yes, that he had come into my room, and we talked. At that point I realized that who I saw was not my doctor, it was God. God had come to my room, and stood in the doorway, to let me know I would be OK. I had an overwhelming sense of calm come over my body, I would be OK. He had a plan for me, I just didn’t know what it was at that time. I now spend my life educating others about Sepsis and supporting those who, like me, are now an amputee. 

To learn more about sepsis and how to prevent infections, visit the CDC’s website and Sepsis Alliance. 

Vala Hallgrimson will join Katy Grainger, Board of Directors for Sepsis Alliance, for the Sepsis Awareness Month Wrap Up webinar this Thursday, September 28 at 1:00pm ET. Register for this free webinar today on our educational webinars page.