Cone Health doctors see spike in sepsis cases

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- About two to three times a day, Sandy Peele types or plays games on her iPad, mainly using her right hand.

“Helps to increase the strength,” Peele said.

She still has trouble on the right side of her body.

On Feb. 9, Peele was diagnosed with the flu, but two days later, found it she was suffering from something much worse.

“I just kind of collapsed,” Peele said. “I don't remember anything after that.”

She got pneumonia, had a stroke and was diagnosed with sepsis -- an infection that causes inflammation and can lead to tissue damage, shut down organs or lead to death.

The 62-year-old was in a coma for nearly two weeks.

“I truly believe I'm a miracle,” she said.

Dr. Daniel Feinstein is the service director for critical care for Cone Health.

He says Cone Health treats between 100 to 120 sepsis patients a month.

"Your heart rate might be really fast,” Feinstein said, describing symptoms. “You might be breathing fast."

He says they've seen an uptick of about 600 patients in the past two years.

“It is just as big a medical emergency as a heart attack,” he said.

Feinstein says they're fine-tuning how to recognize and treat sepsis.

Each emergency department under Cone Health now has its own sepsis team made up of about eight to 10 people, including a doctor, nurses, a pharmacist and others.

"Sepsis is clearly an emergency,” Feinstein said. “We have to be behaving like it's an emergency."

Its treatment Peele says which saved her life.

“I'm just so grateful that I'm here,” she said.

Since the sepsis teams have been in place, Cone Health has seen a 20 to 25 percent decrease in the number of people dying from the infection, according to Feinstein.