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Student, 20, fighting for life after ‘winter cold’ turns out to be deadly sepsis

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A teaching student nearly died after what she thought was a standard winter cold turned out to be deadly sepsis.

Jemma Butler, 20, fell ill while on placement at a primary school during the first year of her degree at Durham University in November 2019.

What she assumed was a viral infection picked up at the school deteriorated quickly, and within a week she was shaking uncontrollably and unable to get out of bed.

After visiting hospital several times, medics eventually told her that it was sepsis – a life-threatening reaction to an infection.

She said: "I felt ill with what seemed to be a sore throat, and was given antibiotics for suspected tonsillitis but it was actually sepsis.

"As I was in my first term of university and in a primary school setting some days on placement, I assumed my symptoms were the result of a viral infection and would disappear on their own."

Within a week her symptoms were “unbearable” and she became more concerned.

She said: "My body was weak and I was unable to stand without my legs uncontrollably shaking.

"I slept with the window wide open, despite it being mid-November, to try and control my rocketing temperature and profound sweating.

"I knew something was seriously wrong and decided to seek help."

When she arrived at A&E her pulse was racing and her temperature was 41C, but sepsis was initially dismissed.

After two paracetamol, her temperature came down and she was sent home with a week's worth of antibiotics.

Jemma did start to improve a little, but was still unable to leave her bed and it was decided that she should return home to Staffordshire.

She said: "Two days after arriving home, I severely deteriorated. I was unable to eat once again and I had developed a swelling on the right side of my jaw, which meant I was unable to open my mouth more than a couple of centimetres wide.

"It was extremely debilitating and scary, as I felt I had lost control of my body."

Jemma's mum took her to A&E at a different hospital where she was diagnosed with lockjaw. She was sent home, but the next day the pain in her jaw and throat was even worse.

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Jemma said: “As we were driving back home from the GPs to pick up a bag to take into hospital, I was violently sick.

“I was sweating profusely whilst also shivering. My skin was pale, mottled and clammy.

“My heart was pounding and I was finding it difficult to catch my breath.

“The most unbearable symptom, one of which I will never forget, was the overwhelming feeling that I was going to die.”

Jemma’s parents called for paramedics and explained they believed she had sepsis.

Doctors then confirmed the diagnosis and she was immediately given antibiotics through a drip.

She said: "The quick diagnosis of sepsis at this point alongside the antibiotics are undoubtedly what saved my life."

Doctors later discovered Jemma had Lemierre’s syndrome, a rare infection in the throat, which is believed to have caused the sepsis.

After 13 days in hospital, she was able to go home and returned to university the following January.

  • Hospital
  • Students

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