Three 'mysterious' symptoms trigger Aussie woman's fight for life: 'Silent killer'

·News Reporter
·4-min read

Caitlin Alsop was just 23 when a 'silent killer' left her fighting for her life.

The Queensland woman was home alone when she felt her tongue swell.

"I was home alone, exhausted and thought I had bitten my tongue," Ms Alsop told Queensland Health, who shared her story on Facebook on Tuesday.

"Not even an hour later; my tongue swelled, started to block my airway and left me speechless.

"I remember thinking to myself at the time, 'Am I having a stroke?'"

27-year-old sepsis survivor and advocate Caitlin Alsop
Caitlin Alsop has been dedicated to raising awareness about sepsis since her experience four years ago. Source: Instagram/comatoconfidence

Fearing the worst, Ms Alsop visited the emergency room at Robina Hospital, where doctors suspected anaphylaxis.

But just 24 hours later, Ms Alsop was transferred to the Gold Coast University Hospital and placed in an induced coma.

"I texted photos of my tongue to my family, trying to get answers and thankfully my aunt raced me to the local hospital," she said.

"There were nearly 20 doctors and specialists waiting to help with my mysterious case.

"They transferred me to the Intensive Care Unit, put me in an induced coma and on life support (ventilator)."

Scans finally reveal cause of woman's health battle

For nine days, Ms Alsop fought against to survive as a rash burnt the top half of her body and her tongue turned black, nearly requiring amputation.

Subsequent scans and testing finally revealed the real cause for her deteriorating health — Ludwig’s Angina, a bacterial infection that started in her wisdom tooth and had resulted in severe sepsis.

"I had no pain, good oral hygiene and no other symptoms, but this impacted wisdom tooth had nearly cost me my life!" she said.

"Thankfully, [doctors] saved my life by surgically removing the tooth, inserting 16 neck drains and putting me on heavy dose IV antibiotics."

After surviving the ordeal, Ms Alsop made the decision from her hospital bed to "wear [her] scars with pride and use [her] story to help others".

"I'm so thankful to be here and determined to make a difference in the world by preventing sepsis before it even happens," she said.

Now, at age 27, she has dedicated a large portion of her life to spreading awareness about the illness through her website Coma to Confidence.

Her story was shared by Queensland Health in light of World Sepsis Day on September 13.

What is sepsis and what causes it?

According to Queensland Health, sepsis — also known as septicaemia or blood poisoning — is a life-threatening illness that is the main cause of death and disability in children.

Adults die from the illness more than breast, prostate and colorectal cancer combined, and half those who survive will be left with a permanent disability or impaired function.

It occurs when the body’s response to an infection causes damage to healthy tissues and organs and can be caused by any type of infection — viral, fungal, or bacterial — from conditions like a mosquito bite, a urinary tract infection or the flu.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

There is no single symptom of sepsis, which can initially resemble the flu, gastro, or a typical urinary, skin, or chest infection.

Adults with sepsis might experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Fast breathing

  • Fast heartbeat

  • Skin rash or clammy/sweaty skin

  • Weakness or aching muscles

  • Not passing much (or any) urine

  • Feeling very hot or cold, chills or shivering

  • Feeling confused, disoriented, or slurring your speech

  • Feeling very unwell, extreme pain or the 'worst ever'

Children with sepsis might experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Fast breathing

  • Convulsions or fits

  • A rash that doesn't fade when pressed

  • Discoloured or blotchy skin, or skin that is very pale or bluish

  • Not passing urine (or no wet nappies) for several hours

  • Vomiting

  • Not feeding or eating

  • A high or very low temperature

  • Sleeping, confused or irritable

  • Pain or discomfort that doesn't respond to ordinary pain relief like paracetamol

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