Hillary Spangler's journey to the UNC School of Medicine, first documented in this video, began at age 10, when she came down with what her parents thought was the flu. Symptoms persisted, and before long it was clear that she wasn't getting any better. After receiving care in Asheboro, North Carolina, her hometown, she was transferred to North Carolina Children's Hospital, where she was diagnosed with sepsis. Sepsis is the body's often deadly reaction to an infection. Symptoms are similar to the flu at first, and for Spangler, who turned 11 during her month-long stay at the hospital, sepsis led to severe blisters, lack of mobility and a lot of fear and apprehension for her parents, who almost lost their daughter.
Spangler spent the rest of that school year recovering at home. She even had to relearn how to walk. But as frightening as her experience was, as she started making sense of what she'd gone through, she found a silver lining. She felt that her life was spared for a reason, and she was determined to give back -- to one day become a doctor, and to learn about medicine where she and her family received wonderful care and loving attention to their needs.
“I feel that I was given a ‘second chance’ for a reason,” Spangler said. “I want to make the most of my second chance and provide the same for others. I’ve been so fortunate to resume a normal life and I want to provide that for others, whether through medicine or sepsis education awareness.”
Last week in New York City, Spangler was honored by Sepsis Alliance as one of five 2016 Sepsis Heroes at the annual Sepsis Heroes: Celebrating Champions of Sepsis Awareness gala for her work in sepsis education within the UNC School of Medicine student population and in quality improvement projects for sepsis recognition. Spangler also helped organize the annual Step on Sepsis 5K, which is held in Cary, N.C., and regularly visits local elementary schools and libraries, using her interactive children’s book, “Where is Henry?,” to educate children about healthy living.
"I’m incredibly honored and humbled by the Sepsis Hero recognition by Sepsis Alliance, an organization that promotes sepsis awareness and education in both medical and community settings," said Spangler. "I hardly consider myself a hero, having many personal Sepsis Heroes that I dedicate this award to for their tenacity and passion for improved sepsis outcomes. My journey would not have been possible without the continued support from UNC Hospitals and the UNC School of Medicine, as they have provided both medical and academic environments and resources in order for me to follow my passions. I’m forever grateful."
Other honorees were Martin Doerfler, MD, Associate Chief Medical Officer at Northwell Health, Lisa Bartlett Davis, a sepsis awareness advocate who founded the Jeffrey Davis Sepsis Challenge 5K, Tom Ahrens, PhD, nurse educator raising awareness on sepsis care best practices, and Kennedy Health System, a Philadelphia-area hospital system that has improved sepsis treatment and outcomes tremendously.
Sepsis Heroes attracts people and organizations from all areas of interest, including sepsis survivors, politicians, industry leaders, researchers, and healthcare professionals, who all attend in order to support the cause and to network with like-minded people.
Sepsis Alliance was created to raise sepsis awareness among both the general public and healthcare professionals. Sepsis awareness can and does save lives, yet fewer than half of American adults have ever heard the word. Sepsis Alliance also gives a voice to the millions of people who have been touched by sepsis – to the survivors, and the friends and family members of those who have survived or who have died. Survivors and those left behind often feel as if they are alone. Learn more about Sepsis Alliance at www.sepsis.org. Learn more about Sepsis Heroes at www.sepsis.org/sepsis-heroes.