In May of 2019, Marie-Maxime Bergeron was breastfeeding her 13-month-old baby girl when she started having pain in her left breast—it appeared that a milk blister had formed. Thinking nothing of it she continued on with her daily activities. Three days later she found herself at the hospital in excruciating pain, fighting for her life. Doctors determined that she had sepsis, leading to septic shock—all stemming from a baseball size abscess in her breast.
Marie-Maxime says what saved her life was her fast visit to the doctor, having a quick transfer to the nearest hospital, her condition being properly identified, and most importantly, receiving effective treatment in a timely matter.
Innovative Medicines Canada (IMC) recently had the opportunity to speak with the mother of two and sepsis survivor.
IMC: Can you tell us more about your journey with sepsis?
Marie-Maxime: It all happened quite fast. I felt a sharp pain in my breast, but I thought this could be due to the breastfeeding I was doing at the time. However, after enduring pain and sickness that only seemed to get worse for three consecutive days, I knew something was off. I thought I had the flu but went to see my family doctor just to be safe. It was truly impeccable timing, as soon as I got to the office I fainted, and when I awoke, I started vomiting profusely. Doctors quickly made the decision to send me to the nearest hospital by ambulance.
At the hospital, I was given fluid resuscitation, which helped improve my blood pressure. It took a few additional hours for the emergency staff to determine that I had sepsis, leading to septic shock—all stemming from a baseball size abscess in my breast. After 24 hours of observation, I was transferred to the hospital’s intensive care unit.
At the time, I really had no idea that septic shock could lead to multiple organ failure. My kidneys, liver and lungs were all significantly impacted. The degree to which a person’s organs become affected by septic shock is determined by how quickly doctors administer the correct treatment and how the body responds to it. Doctors were soon able to identify that I was fighting an invasive Streptococcal A blood infection. I was literally hours away from dying. Thankfully, once the doctors were able to correctly identify the antibiotic treating my blood infection required, my health started improving. After the fourth day in the ICU there was a drastic improvement in my blood markers and my vitals, and I was able to go home after day six. What followed after, was a month full of doctor’s appointments and tests.
IMC: How did having timely access to medicines impact your journey as a patient?
Marie-Maxime: In simple terms—it really did save my life. I am aware that my case was a very lucky one. My organs fully recovered, and I did not receive any amputations—something that is very common after surviving a septic shock.
In my case my body responded positively to the antibiotic that they treated me with however, in other individual’s cases certain infections don’t always respond well to the antibiotic treatment administered. Antibiotic resistance, also called “antimicrobial resistance” are infections caused by bacteria that don’t respond to traditional antibiotics. It is an increasing problem around the world.
I feel very fortunate that doctors were able to identify the appropriate antibiotic in a quick enough manner to treat my septic shock, and that my body did in fact respond positively to the antibiotic they administered. Unfortunately, not everyone with sepsis receives timely treatment or even the right diagnosis.
IMC: What would you like to see change in regard to Canada’s approach to antimicrobial resistance (AMR)?
Marie-Maxime: My hope is that one day in Canada, we will effectively develop a type of medication that doesn’t create any resistance. My other hope is that one day Canada can effectively develop diagnostics that identify sepsis at a much faster rate.
Increasing education around sepsis is also very important. Due to COVID-19 we have seen an increase in sepsis cases and sadly some people around the world who have passed away from COVID-19, have died because they have had sepsis. Once the disease has made an individual sick, their body tries to fight off the infection and, in the process shuts down organs and kills healthy tissue. Over the next years, sepsis will be at the forefront of Canada’s major health challenges. Being informed about what sepsis is, is incredibly important as it can touch anyone’s life at any given moment time—it really does not discriminate.
Increasing innovation in medicines and education around sepsis in Canada will be extremely important for us moving forward.