I’m Caitlin Alsop and I’m a sepsis survivor from Australia. I was a healthy 23-year-old until sepsis left me fighting for my life, ventilated and comatose. You never know how strong you really are until you’re faced with life or death.
At 23, after dinner with a friend, following a ‘common cold’, I was home alone, exhausted and thought I had bitten my tongue. Little did I know, this slight pain and fatigue would be the first clue to something much more sinister. Not even an hour later, my tongue swelled, started to block my airway, and left me speechless. I’d heard of sepsis but didn’t know what it was and didn’t think it would happen to me.
Home alone, unable to speak with shallow breath, I texted photos of my tongue to my family, trying to get answers. Thankfully, my aunt raced me to the local hospital. “45 minutes and you’ll be out” we were told by the kind doctors at the hospital who suspected anaphylaxis. I don’t blame them–all symptoms pointed to this. They gave me two adrenaline shots and a steroid…but my blood pressure completely dropped, my breathing worsened and I kept passing out. A rash rapidly spread over my body.
The local hospital tried everything they could but hadn’t seen this before and that “45 minutes” turned into an emergency ambulance transfer to a bigger hospital. When I arrived, there were nearly 20 doctors and specialists waiting for me. They transferred me to Intensive Care, put me in an induced coma, paralyzed me and put me on life support (ventilator) for nine days. My family was told to prepare for the worst as I remained a medical mystery and the doctors raced against time to save my life.
During my nine days spent comatose in the ICU, “up to 100 people” worked on me and my mystery condition. I had scans, tests and visits from infectious disease specialists. The rash burnt the top half of my body, my tongue went black and was nearly amputated. The real cause was Ludwig’s Angina from an unknown wisdom tooth infection in my jaw and had led to severe sepsis. I had no pain, good oral hygiene and no other symptoms, but this wisdom tooth had nearly cost me my life! The infection took over my body and nearly killed me. That’s the reality of sepsis.
The next part was really scary for my family, but doctors were amazing. The infection swelling crushed my jugular vein and there was concern for blood flow to my heart and brain. Doctors needed to quickly stop the infection and preserve my blood supply to my heart and brain, but my black tongue couldn’t be amputated as it was too risky. Thankfully, they saved my life by surgically removing the tooth, inserting 16 neck drains and putting me on heavy dose IV antibiotics.
After nine days, I woke up weak, started breathing on my own and the tubes slowly disappeared. Weak and disoriented, I felt like the luckiest person to be alive. I was so grateful just to be able to see, hear and breathe. In that hospital bed, I made a decision to wear my scars with pride, celebrate life and use my story to help others. During my recovery, I couldn’t talk properly, couldn’t eat because of ulcers in my mouth, had foggy memory and a newly found lisp from the burnt tongue but I always found a positive. I made jokes about my ‘coma brain’ and was spoilt by my friends and family with chocolate shakes. I always found a way to do things, even if it was a little slower. Through the help of my family and friends, I got stronger and stronger every day.
I was so determined to turn my story into something positive and viewed it as a second chance at life. My story was literally from “coma to confidence”, as I focused on a brand-new business, building confidence and representing my scars with pride. I was shocked when I was offered an opportunity to share my story which connected me to the most incredible, inspiring people and inspired my own personal projects.
I’m so thankful to be here and determined to make a difference in the world, give back to the doctors and nurses and change sepsis. I am honored to have been able to share my story all over the world, participate and host charity events for the Gold Coast Hospital Foundation and meet the most incredible survivors and doctors. I now work with medical professionals to make healthcare more affordable and have been fortunate enough to collaborate with sepsis organizations around the work, various media outlets, magazines and podcasts to raise awareness about sepsis.
I hope that sharing my story helps someone with their own scars, inspires and enables someone to see just how strong they truly are. “Never be ashamed of a scar, because it means that something tried to beat you but you were stronger than it.”
Sepsis left me with scars of courage and ironically in nearly losing my tongue and my life; I gained a whole new voice and purpose. I am so grateful to the doctors and nurses for my life, and it has become my mission to raise awareness about sepsis and make a difference. This is my story of sepsis and my second chance at life.