Nurse Helps Develop Process to Save Her Own Life

Nurse at her nursing station

Sepsis is a life-threatening response to infection that overwhelms the body. It can be hard to identify, even for a UnityPoint Health nurse like Jennifer Heuertz, who has worked in the hospital for nearly four decades.

 “We see septic patients in our intensive care unit (ICU) on a daily basis,” Heuertz says.

Sepsis is the number one reason patients are admitted to the ICU at hospitals across the United States. That’s why Heuertz has spent years working to improve processes around sepsis identification and treatment.

“We started the process in the emergency department, really looking at screening tools for sepsis. Patients are screened upon arrival by the nurse.”

However, even with all her experience, Heuertz didn’t realize when she became septic herself. She had not been feeling well for a couple days and initially thought she had a virus. When she began to develop chills and urinary discomfort, she went to urgent care. There, she was diagnosed with a possible kidney infection and prescribed antibiotics.

The next day she woke up still not feeling well. Heuertz’s daughter, Emily Glynn, who is also a nurse, had been monitoring her mom’s health. Glynn recognized the dangerous situation when she discovered her mom hadn’t gotten out of bed all day.

“I basically threatened her with three options because I was pretty concerned she was septic at that point,” Glynn says. “She either lets another daughter take her to the ER, I drive back and take her or I call 911.”

At the emergency room, Heuertz, although disoriented, was able to tell the team she thought she had sepsis. The staff mobilized a “sepsis swarm,” immediately screening her and identifying sepsis.

“Just that word ‘sepsis,’ there was just a hubbub of activity. Two nurses came in, I had IVs, I had blood work, lab was there right away and my physician was notified. They initiated the protocol per the process we have in place.”

Heuertz’s sepsis was caught early, and she quickly began to improve, thanks to her care team and the processes she helped create. Twenty-four hours after arriving at the ER, Heuertz went home.

“I really appreciate the process and the engagement of the ER staff and their leadership in the ER to improve outcomes for all of us, including myself. Knowing what I know, if I would not have had the interventions, the early recognition and the early intervention by the staff and the team in the ER, my outcome could have been completely different,” Heuertz says.

Sepsis Is the Number One:

  • Cause of death in hospitals
  • Cause of re-admissions to hospitals
  • Cost to hospitals ($24 billion per year)

Sepsis Symptoms:

S: Shivering, Fever or Very Cold
E: Extreme Pain or Discomfort
P: Pale or Discolored Skin
S: Sleepy, Difficult to Rouse, Confused
I: “I feel like I might die.”
S: Short of Breath