VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – A Virginia Beach mother got a second chance at life, after sepsis threatened to take her away from her husband and children. During this sepsis Awareness Month, she shares how she has turned her near death experience into a new chance at life for others.
“In 2015 I was just your normal mom, two boys, they were three and 19-months-old. My husband traveled all the time. I was very used to being that single mom,” he said Audrey Leishman.
“It started on a normal Sunday. I took my kids to a movie, and we were going to some friends’ house for dinner that night. On the way to dinner, I started to feel a bit achy and (when we) got there I was very cold. I had to ask to borrow a sweater. It was April, so it really wasn’t very cold. Couldn’t really eat, and then, on the way home, I started to feel worse, and so I got my kids to bed, and laid down and I remember being so, so cold that I started shaking, and I got up and asked my husband to come and just like, hold me because I was so cold, and he told me that I was burning up. Looking back on it now, I had rigors caused by a fever, and if I had known that I would have known that you shouldn’t be shaking from a fever, but I really thought that I just had the flu. The next day I started to have some stomach problems, and so I thought, this is the stomach flu. I just really need to rest, but progressively I got worse to the point where I developed joint pain, and then, when I finally got scared was when my nose started to bleed.”
Audrey, and her pro-golfer husband, Marc Leishman, quickly learned her condition was not the flu.
“My first clue that things were really bad was, I refused to go to the ER initially. I went to Sentara Urgent Care, and I kept trying to say that I just wanted to go home. I just needed to rest, and towards the end she said, ‘You’ve been here for several hours. I think that you have sepsis. You need to go to the ER. You need to go by ambulance, and you need to do this for your children.’ And because she was a mom, and she knew that I was a mom, she knew that that one statement there, I was never going to argue with that. If you tell me that, of course I want to be here for my children,” said Audrey.
Her challenges continued when she got into the ER.
“I was initially brushed off and told that I would be given some fluid and go home. Hospitals have come so very, very far. I’m actually amazed at the lengths Sentara has gone to improve their Sepsis Awareness and their protocols, but back then, there was a very good chance that I would have been sent home if I hadn’t had other advocates there with me.”
Shortly after she was admitted, Audrey got the diagnosis.
“Unfortunately, what I thought was the flu ended up being sepsis, toxic shock, and eventually acute respiratory distress syndrome. I was in the hospital for a total of 10 days.”
According to the CDC, “Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. It is a life-threatening medical emergency. Sepsis happens when an infection you already have triggers a chain reaction throughout your body. Infections that lead to sepsis most often start in the lung, urinary tract, skin, or gastrointestinal tract. Without timely treatment, sepsis can rapidly lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.”
While Audrey battled sepsis, doctors decided they needed to put her in a medically induced coma for five days.
“I very clearly remember when they told me that they were going to put me in a coma. It was Tuesday night that I was admitted, and throughout the day, Wednesday, that’s when I went into respiratory distress. It felt like I was drowning in my own body. I could hear the crackling in my chest. It got to the point where I had to take a breath between each word. I couldn’t complete a sentence, but I kept fighting it. It was about 5am on a Thursday morning, and they said, ‘We need to do this right now.’ And I begged them for more time. I said, ‘Can we just wait until 7am so I can call my boys? I just want to talk to them before this happens.’ I think I knew there was a really good chance I wasn’t going to wake up, but they kept telling me, ‘No, we can’t wait. This has to happen right now.’”
Doctors gave Audrey a less than 5% chance of survival, but this Virginia Beach mom beat the odds. However, life after waking up was not easy.
“My family and friends, they went through their nightmare while I was asleep, but mine started when I woke up. That year, after I got sick, was full of illness and so many rounds of antibiotics. My immune system was just destroyed, but the blessing of that year was learning so much about sepsis and the toll and the impact it has around the world and realizing that that’s why it happened to me. That’s why I got sick, because I could use that experience and turn it into something positive and create a foundation where we can save lives and help survivors and, I’m thankfully at the point now where I really don’t wish that it didn’t It doesn’t happen. I couldn’t do that, because so much good has happened from it.”
That “good” Audrey referred to is the Begin Again Foundation. It’s a non-profit she founded with her husband.
“We want to save as many lives as we can, and we want to support families, survivors, and communities when they’re going through their worst moments and their crises. For a sepsis survivor, it is actually one of the highest costing hospital bills there is. I’ll never forget when I was being discharged, the nurse comes in, I went home with a PIC line, and she says, ‘This is how much those antibiotics cost. This is how much home healthcare is, your bedside commode, your walker, all of that. Is that okay?’ And I thought to myself right then, what if it wasn’t okay? What if I couldn’t afford this? And that is really where our first program, our Leishline, started from. We give a thousand dollars, and I know that won’t fix everything, but if I can take that little bit of pressure off in that first, second, third month so that they can focus a little more on their recovery and a little less on how they’re going to pay their bills, that means the world to me to be able to do that,” said Audrey.
In addition to helping people financially, the organization is on a mission to educate people about sepsis.
“Knowing the symptoms really is a life-or-death matter.”
Symptoms of sepsis include:
- – High heart rate or weak pulse
- – Fever, shivering, or feeling very cold
- – Confusion or disorientation
- – Extreme pain or discomfort
- – Clammy or sweaty skin
- – Shortness of breath
“Some of the most common causes of sepsis are respiratory infections, UTIs, and kidney stones. So, very common things that happen to otherwise completely healthy people, and you can take a 31-year-old mom who is completely healthy, and four days later, I’m 95% dead,” said Audrey.
She also emphasizes the importance of knowing the numbers.
According to the CDC:
- – At least 1.7 million adults in America develop sepsis.
- – At least 350,000 adults who develop sepsis die during their hospitalization or are discharged to hospice.
- – 1 in 3 people who die in a hospital had sepsis during that hospitalization
- – Sepsis, or the infection causing sepsis, starts before a patient goes to the hospital in nearly 87% of cases.
“More children die from sepsis than they do pediatric cancer. More people died from sepsis than they do breast cancer, prostate cancer, and opioid overdoses combined,” said Audrey.
Those statistics don’t sit well with the Leishmans, so they hold a major fundraising event every year in order to constantly give more and educate more through their foundation.
“We have our annual Birdies, Bubbles, and Beers Gala and Golf Tournament. We’ve had it for the last seven years. Our amazing community has really stepped up every year, and every single year I think we won’t raise more than we did last year, and somehow, I’ve been wrong every year. It has been incredible, and mind blowing really, that people believe in what we do enough to trust us with the money they work hard for.”
Since 2016, the Begin Again Foundation has given more than $1,000,000 to support survivors, families, children, and communities in need.
“Sepsis is the beast that we have to fight, and we have to be aware of.”