South Bay hospital saves woman's life after sepsis diagnosis

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San Jose's Regional Medical Center has put in extra effort in diagnosing a condition called sepsis, which likely helped them recently save a woman's life. (KGO-TV)

A Bay Area hospital is putting extra effort in diagnosing a condition that was blamed in the recent death of Patty Duke.

Sandra Salvatierra was recently rushed to Regional Medical Center in San Jose, with symptoms that included pain and fever. "When I got into the ambulance everything's low, my vitals, everything," Salvatierra said.

When she reached the emergency room, doctors at the hospital turned to a process designed to catch a sometimes hidden killer such as sepsis. "One of the challenges of sepsis is that in its early stages it can look just like a mild viral infection or the flu," Dan Houseman, M.D., said.

Houseman said the condition is triggered by the body's response to an infection. The result can be inflammation so severe, it can cause organ failure and even death. Because early detection is key, Regional Medical Center adopted a system that's just earned it a special sepsis certification. Just steps from the emergency room, technicians run high-speed blood tests.

"And I can do it immediately,it takes two or three minutes to do the results," Angie Tennant said.

The CDC estimates a quarter million people a year die from sepsis. In the case of actress Duke, the cause was believed to be an infection traced to her intestines. Houseman said a quick diagnosis can often make the difference. "Once we suspect it, the treatment's going to be fluids, supportive care such as oxygen and treating the infection with antibiotics," he said.

In Salvatierra's case an infection on her heart triggered the sepsis and she believes the quick diagnosis and treatment likely saved her life.

Regional Medical Center's sister facility Good Samaritan Hospital also earned the sepsis certification for its diagnosis and treatment program.

Written and produced by Tim Didion.

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