On March 4, 2014, shortly before midnight on the night of the Oscars, Jill Kogan Blake was at a party when she began to feel sick—very sick. Unknown to her, Jill’s colon had perforated. After two hours of excruciating abdominal pain, she allowed her partner to call 9-1-1. Firefighter-paramedics from California’s Southern Marin Fire Protection District responded and rapidly assessed her. Having had up-to-date sepsis-specific education, they alerted nearby Marin General Hospital and began a rapid infusion of fluids during transport. Within hours of being admitted, Jill was transferred to the ICU, where she would spend more than five weeks in a coma.
Fortunately Jill lived, but when she recovered she wanted to be more than just a survivor of sepsis. She wanted to help ensure others never had to endure the fear, pain, and frustration she and her loved ones had. She wanted to do something about sepsis and thank the EMS providers who had helped her.
Jill began work with the Sepsis Alliance, the nation’s leading sepsis organization, raising funds to develop educational resources and nationally recognized training for first responders and EMS providers. “I began to realize that this state of sepsis as an orphan disease…had to change,” she says. The result is a new program: Sepsis: First Response.
“We created Sepsis: First Response because when EMS personnel are trained to recognize sepsis and begin treatment in the field, they save lives,” says Thomas Heymann, executive director of the Sepsis Alliance. As many as 87% of sepsis cases originate in the patient’s community, and first responders are often the first medical providers to reach these cases. They transport as many as 50% of patients with severe sepsis who arrive at emergency departments.
Led by EMS educator Rom Duckworth, an advisory board member for the Sepsis Alliance and past “Sepsis Hero” honoree, Sepsis: First Response offers prehospital providers the tools to identify sepsis, begin treatment, and effectively coordinate care with ED and hospital colleagues.
“In Sepsis: First Response we emphasize the importance of prehospital recognition of sepsis, along with good collaboration with the emergency department staff by providing key information about the patient’s status and saying ‘I’m concerned about sepsis,’” says Duckworth.
In addition to posters, decals, and “badge buddy” educational resources, the Sepsis: First Response landing page offers a free 15-minute educational video endorsed by the National Association of EMS Physicians, National Association of EMS Educators, and New England Center for Rescue and Emergency Medicine.
“From the CDC perspective, sepsis isn’t just a medical emergency, it’s a public health issue,” says Lauren Epstein, MD, medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who provides expert commentary in the video. “First responders can have an enormous impact on the care patients receive.” Sepsis: First Response also features expert commentary from Chris Seymour, MD, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
To address the concerns of a recent NAEMSE position paper calling for higher-quality, more standardized sepsis education for prehospital providers, Blake’s work has allowed the Sepsis Alliance to partner with the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) to deliver longer-format accredited education modules for prehospital providers of all levels.
“Through our partnership with NAEMT, we will reach a broader scope of EMS and prehospital practitioners to provide them with the knowledge to recognize sepsis, begin the appropriate treatment, and save lives,” says Heymann. “Sepsis Alliance has developed a great curriculum of educational resources specifically designed for EMS and prehospital practitioners that we’re excited to share with NAEMT.”
Sepsis Alliance and NAEMT will provide educational tools that include a one-hour accredited Sepsis: First Response training module accessible through www.naemt.org. This collaboration will also include a survey on sepsis awareness among prehospital practitioners in February 2019 that will help direct the development of future education and resources.
Blake believes all EMS providers need to have the resources and education to save lives like the paramedics who helped save hers, and NAEMT and the Sepsis Alliance agree. On September 13, 2018 Jill was honored by the Sepsis Alliance as a “Sepsis Hero” for her tireless work helping to make Sepsis: First Response a reality.
Rommie L. Duckworth, LP, is a dedicated emergency responder and award-winning educator with more than 25 years working in career and volunteer fire departments, hospital healthcare systems, and public and private emergency medical services. He is currently a career fire captain and paramedic EMS coordinator.