How this sepsis survivor nearly lost her life from an infection

Bela Maranhas shares her experience with the life-threatening condition
Bela stands near flowers smiling

Bela Maranhas broke her ankle while she was on a neighborhood walk near her home north of Boston. She went to the hospital for surgery and the next day she woke up with a sore throat. Within 24 hours she also had a fever, chest pain and shortness of breath.

“It started with a cough and it just went wild,” she said. “Within a few days, I had to be moved to the ICU. The doctors couldn’t keep me alive without intubation.”

Maranhas had developed an infection that quickly turned into sepsis, a condition caused by the body’s overwhelming response to infection. Sepsis can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and even death if it isn't treated quickly. In Maranhas’ case, it led to a medically induced coma and 46 days in the hospital in intensive care.

“At one point they told [my husband] my chances of survival were 15%,” she said. “By the grace of God, I beat the odds.”

She survived, but it took an extreme toll on her body and mind. Maranhas had gone to the hospital a healthy and fit 52-year-old woman. She came out months later, needing extensive mental and physical therapy.

“When I came out of the coma, nothing worked,” she said. “I had to learn to move my hands, learn to eat and learn to think.”

Although the next few years of recovery were difficult, she says they taught her a lot about life and how she wants to live it.

“It made me realize how lucky I am to be alive. There had to be a reason [I survived],” she said. “Maybe it is so I can help other people.”

Bela sits on the steps in front her home

Maranhas wants to spread awareness about sepsis. Every two minutes, someone dies from sepsis in the United States. By noticing the signs of sepsis and getting medical care quickly, people can reduce their chances that sepsis will seriously harm their health. If you or someone you love is experiencing the symptoms of sepsis — fever, extreme tiredness, confusion, shortness of breath, lightheadedness or unexplained pain — call a doctor and ask, “Could this be sepsis?”

When Maranhas was diagnosed with sepsis 13 years ago, she had never heard of it. The doctors didn’t even mention the term to her husband, as they were not sure what was wrong with her at first. One of the doctors eventually recognized that the symptoms and her rapid decline in health could be due to an infection in her lungs, and that she needed treatment fast.

She’s not the only one. Despite being a leading cause of hospitalization and death worldwide, it’s not a well-known condition. Seventy-five percent of adults in the U.S. don’t know the most common symptoms of sepsis, and more than a quarter have never heard of it. Maranhas wants to change that.

“I hope [telling my story] does help others because that would be the greatest gift,” she said.

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