New program focuses on early detection of sepsis


Ali Smallwood came to Texas Children's with an infection that turned into sepsis. Doctors caught it fast and saved her life.

"It's instant. They get them in there, they diagnose it and they start treating them," her father, Chris Smallwood said.

But it wasn't always that way. Sepsis is an infection that causes an overwhelming immune response and can lead to organ damage, shock and death. Ali's at extra risk because she has cancer.

To save a life, it must be treated fast. But doctors at Texas Children used to overlook it.

"We weren't sometimes picking up on the early signs, that we didn't recognize it early enough," said Dr. Binita Patel, a Texas Children's Hospital pediatric emergency medicine doctor.

They're catching it early now because of a new sepsis screening program. And the Smallwoods have seen the difference with Ali. She has had sepsis five times!

"Two and a half years ago, it took us two hours up here and another hour and a half down in ICU before they actually started treating her," Chris said.

And she was in ICU for two weeks. This time, during her fifth sepsis episode, she was in ICU one day. They credit the screening and quick treatment.

"Probably would have died if we hadn't gotten such early help with a lot of situations she's been in," Ali's mother, Megan Smallwood, said.

"There are kids who are leaving our intensive care units faster because of, we think, our shock protocol," Dr. Patel said.

Adult hospitals have been saving lives with sepsis early detection programs for several years. A UTHealth study found its sepsis screening program reduced the death rate by 19 percent in two years and saved half a million dollars in medical costs.

Ali's parents know they're lucky. She's survived two killers: cancer and sepsis.

You also should watch for septic shock. People with it have fever and a rapid heart rate that stays that way. They also have difficulty breathing, and a drop in blood pressure.

Copyright © 2022 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.