A former banker in the U.K. was fit and healthy before developing sepsis, a deadly blood poisoning disease, during a routine trip to the dentist.
Tom Ray contracted the disease in 1999 at the age of 38 when he received a cut on his gums while in the dentist’s chair. While Ray had a slight cold at the time, he quickly fell ill with fever symptoms, a high temperature, and vomiting.
Ray describes himself as once strong and healthy—the type of man who would never take a day off from his corporate banking job—described his ordeal in Sky News:
“I went to the dentist and the dentist nicked my gum with one of those scalpel instruments they use.
I also had a cold at the time, and a day or two later I started to feel very, very ill. Very hot, but also very cold.
I couldn’t stop being sick and just felt thoroughly wrong. I put myself to bed thinking it was man flu or something but it got worse and worse from there. My symptoms continued to worsen until I lost consciousness and was admitted to [the emergency room].”
While at the hospital, Ray waited for ten hours as doctors diagnosed his condition and looked at the various possibilities.
On his website, he explained that he later realized the medical staff were ignorant to the situation:
“They didn’t know what was wrong with me so I was simply put into a side ward, the curtains were closed around me and I was left to die.”
In a separate interview with Radio 4, Ray said of the blood tests:
“By the time they were returned showing clear sepsis, it was far too late. Sepsis will kill you within a few hours.”
Ray then spent months in a coma. At the time, his wife Nic—whom he had hoped to set up a small business with—gave birth to their second child, Freddy.
“When you're dealing with a patient with sepsis, it's like you're dealing with someone on fire."
At RCN Congress today you can hear Tom Ray tell his remarkable story about surviving the life threatening condition https://t.co/nO6lWXYtns
— The RCN (@theRCN) May 22, 2019
When he finally woke up, Ray found that both his arms and his legs had been surgically removed. His face, too, from the eyes down, had also been removed.
Ray didn’t remember who he was, or any of the major details of his life.
“From my point of view, I woke up five months later and the doctors had amputated my hands, amputated my feet and also my face.
They had amputated from my eyes downwards, so everything was gone. It was just red raw, and I couldn’t remember anything about my past life.”
His wife also appeared to be a complete stranger.
“There was a beautiful woman sitting next to me with a newborn baby and she introduced herself to me as my wife.
Everything had disappeared from my memory and I had to relearn everything about my past.”
Tragically, his own daughter, Grace, refused to acknowledge that he was her father for weeks following his awakening from the coma, insisting, “that’s not my daddy.”
What followed was a grueling and laborious process of recovery involving years of plastic surgery and, most importantly, the love and care provided to him by his wife, with whom he had been married for only a few years before he became ill.
Despite his past successes in banking, the recovery process made the Ray family poor for quite some time—Ray’s wife was forced to quit her job to take care of him, while the family had to move in with his mother due to their inability to afford their house.
Ray explained that the ordeal has taught him valuable life lessons:
“It is not the life I wanted to lead. It is not the life I wanted for my children. I have had some terrible lows, but I have learned to battle on.
I have learned to control what goes into my mind. I only let positive thoughts go in.
I also realized it is not all about me. I had to be there for my children—to help them with their school work and take them places. Terrible things can happen in life, but you can get through them.”
Tom is now 57, and has devoted his life to motivational speaking and advocating for a more stringent approach to sepsis. Along with his wife and Pippa Bagnall, Ray’s one-time nurse and former National Health Service chief, he formed the advocacy group Resilience and Co.
Among his awareness-raising tactics is removing his prosthesis to shock audiences into the grim reality of the disease, he told BBC.
“I would rather not do this—it is not good for your mental health constantly going over the most difficult experience of my life. But I want to make a difference. I want to speak for those who can’t—the people who have died from sepsis.”
The Rays hope that they can convince health service professionals to do mandatory training and checks on sepsis to prevent others from suffering the tragedy Tom faced.
According to the U.S. National Institute of General Medical Sciences, severe sepsis affects over a million Americans every year, with anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of those people dying. The number of sepsis cases has also been rising, with infants, children, the elderly, and those with serious medical problems or injuries facing the highest risk.
Common symptoms of the disease include extreme shivering and muscle pain, rash, confusion, slurred speech, an inability to urinate, breathlessness, discolored skin, and rapid breathing. Because the symptoms are so common, sepsis can often be difficult to diagnose.
However, blood tests can be used to detect sepsis at an early stage, and antibiotics can ensure a full recovery—preventing not only death, but also the types of disabilities and life-altering consequences faced by Ray.
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