An estimated 44 percent of adults have never heard of sepsis, and even less actually understand the life-threatening condition.
In 2014, Sue and Jay Stull were living their dream in Choctaw, but an unexpected run-in with sepsis would quickly change their reality.
After meeting in 1999, the couple had established a permanent home in the community and were excited to see their two children, Tyler and Devon, finish school in Choctaw.
Jay retired from the United States Air Force in 2010 following 26 years of service and three deployments.
Sue was an avid reader with an outgoing personality, and had landed what she considered her dream job as a circulation clerk at the Choctaw Public Library.
She had been working for 18 months and was living a seemingly happy and healthy life, but a few short days in August of 2014 would forever change her life.
Fever, chills, extreme muscle soreness and restlessness prompted her to visit the emergency room. She was diagnosed with a viral infection and sent home.
Her condition continued to deteriorate, and she returned to the emergency room 32 hours later. Despite excruciating pain and severe weaknesses Sue insisted on not using a wheelchair, and she walked into the emergency room with assistance from her husband.
That was the last time she walked on her own two feet.
She was transported by ambulance from the emergency room to an intensive care unit. There, she received broad spectrum IV antibiotics and pain killers.
The next morning, Sue had to be put on a ventilator. Her husband notified family and spent the next 30 hours by her side.
After three days in the intensive care unit, doctors told the Stull family to say their final goodbyes, because they anticipated her having less than a five percent chance of survival.
Aug. 12, 2014 the Stull family had a meeting and Sue made her intentions of not giving up clear. She was determined to survive.
Over the next 10 days, her condition gradually improved. She would eventually beat septic shock, but not without life-altering repercussions.
Sepsis and the vasopressors used to keep her alive robbed her extremities of needed blood flow and nutrients. This resulted in tissue death and ultimately bilateral below-the-elbow and bilateral below-the-knee amputations.
41-year-old Sue was now a quadruple amputee.
After 50 days in the hospital, Sue began therapy at INTEGRIS Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation.
A month of inpatient rehab was followed by nearly a year of outpatient therapy.
During that time, she amazed Jim Thorpe staff with her positive attitude, tireless work ethic and enduring optimism.
Sue relearned how to do basic tasks and strengthened her body in order to utilize prosthetics and regain her independence.
“The people were just really great,” Sue said. “I was just fresh from having the amputations and I was pretty emotional. At first they didn’t know what to do with me because they didn’t have a quad-amputee. But if they didn’t know how to do something, they’d figure it out.”
Defying her initial five percent odds of survival, today there is almost nothing Sue can’t accomplish.
“It’s a challenge, but you can’t let it ruin the rest of your life. I mean, (my husband, Jay) didn’t stick by me and I didn’t fight that hard to just sit at home and curl up and be a hermit,” said Sue. “I want other people to see that you can still do things, because at first I thought ‘I’m never going to be able to do anything.’”
She has gone skydiving, founded an organization for sepsis awareness and started an annual 5K walk/run in her name.
Sue also pushed for a “Sepsis Matters” license plate that will be available in Oklahoma later this fall.
In July, she jumped onto home plate and raised her arms triumphantly to the cheers of Oklahoma City Dodgers fans after rounding the bases as part of the Home Run For Life series.
“I just don’t want this to be any more tragic than it has to be,” she explained. “I just want to get back to the way I used to be as much as possible.”
Sue was honored as a 2016 Jim Thorpe Courage Award Winner on Thursday, Sept.22.
For 22 years, INTEGRIS Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation has presented Courage Awards to “individuals who display exceptional bravery and grace through the most difficult of circumstances.”
What is Sepsis?
Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to an infection which often results in tissue damage, organ failure and death.
Sepsis affects between a million and 1,600,000 people in the United States each year, and the condition kills around 258,000 of those people annually.
Sepsis kills more people than breast cancer, prostate cancer and AIDs combined.
Approximately 8.5 percent of cancer patients actually die from sepsis, while sepsis is the leading cause of death for AIDs patients
Worldwide, sepsis accounts for 10 million deaths a year. That’s a sepsis related death every three seconds.
Sepsis can develop from bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic infections, but is most commonly caused by bacterial infections.
For more information about sepsis and Sue Stull’s inspiring story visit www.suestull-sepsis.org.