It was May 3, 2016. Something wasn’t right. Kristen Santos knew it.
She was dizzy and running a fever. It felt like the flu, but worse. Not
well enough to drive, she asked a neighbor to take her to the hospital.
“I don’t remember anything after that,” said Kristen,
who woke up briefly, more than 10 days later inside Kaweah Delta Medical
Center’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
When Kristen woke next, she’d missed Mother’s Day, and her
two grown children who live out of the area – Celeste and Nicholas
– were beside her; her boyfriend Brad, was whispered “I love
you,” in her ear. Three of her fingers and two of her toes had turned
black from lack of blood circulation. Her kidneys had shut down. She had
experienced a heart attack. All were the result of her diagnosis with
sepsis, the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to
an infection, which can cause tissue damage, organ failure and death.
At the age of 48, Kristen, a retired police officer, who had long been
the picture of health, was given a 40 percent chance to live.
Today, Kristen is alive and thankful. She’ll always wonder how a
blister on her foot became infected and landed her in the hospital for
28 days. The blister developed on a Saturday after she wore the perfect
pair of heels to match her outfit to the San Francisco ballet. Two days
later, she began feeling sick.
“Most people want to get out of the hospital, but when I drive by
Kaweah Delta, I have to go in and say thank you,” Kristen said.
“Everyone was amazing, from the nurses to the physical therapists.
I call them my angels.”
There are two types of infections. There are infections that people get
out in the community such as sepsis, pneumonia, and influenza. There are
also infections that occur in the hospital setting. For both types, Kaweah
Delta has rigorous standards in place to diagnose, treat, or prevent their
spread. Currently, Kaweah Delta performs better than the national benchmark
in four of the eight hospital-acquired infections monitored by the Centers
for Medicare & Medicare and no different than the national benchmark
in three other categories, according to Medicare.gov.
“We put in a lot of hard work to make sure our hospital is safe because
it’s important for patients,” said Sandra Volchko, Director
of Quality and Patient Improvement at Kaweah Delta.
After tests and observation, doctors diagnosed Kristen with severe sepsis.
It claims the lives of 28 to 50 percent of the more than a million Americans
diagnosed with it each year. That’s more than the number of people
in the U.S. who die each year from prostate cancer, breast cancer and
“I had never even heard of this in my life,” Kristen said.
Kristen was monitored 24 hours, seven days a week. She was given antibiotics,
IV fluids, and hooked to machines that helped her blood circulate, mimicked
the function of her kidneys, and helped her breathe, said Kassie Waters,
Kaweah Delta’s Quality Improvement Manager. “We were her biggest
cheerleaders,” Waters said.
Some who survive sepsis live with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic
stress disorder, chronic pain, and organs that don’t work properly.
Kristen is finding her new normal.
“My world changed completely, but I’m slowly regaining my strength,”
she said. “If I can help someone else by sharing my story, it will
all be worth it.”