Texas firefighters first in nation to carry drugs to combat sepsis

It's more common than heart attacks and claims more lives than any cancer. Sepsis can cause vital organs to shut to down. 

But now a North Texas fire department is the first in the country to carry life-saving antibiotics to combat it, CBS DFW reports.

Sepsis occurs when your immune system senses infection but overwhelms the body in response, leading to organ failure and often death.

The North Richland Hills Fire Department ambulances have a way to help thanks to Medical City North Hills hospital and the plea of a firefighter. 

"One of my firefighters who had leukemia, had sepsis and he was dying and we missed it in the field," said Dr. Roy Yamada, medical director for North Richland Hills. "And he went to the hospital and he called me begging me for us to address sepsis because he almost died."

0613-health-sepsis-1334733-640x360.jpg

Firefighters in North Richland Hills, Texas, now carry antibiotics to start treating patients with sepsis faster.

KTVT/CBS Dallas-Fort Worth

North Richland Hills partnered with Medical City North Hills and paramedics learned to recognize signs of sepsis and to react quickly.

"Every hour an antibiotic is not provided to a patient there is a 7.6 percent increase in mortality," said Dorie Murray, a Medical City North Hills nurse who has focused on bringing down sepsis mortality rates. "So, if you think about the 30 minute ride, the time that they get to the hospital and they have to be in registration and about the time physician season it may be two, 2 1/2 hours behind the eight ball."

A firefighter found a private, South Carolina ambulance company deploying antibiotics in the field to cut down delays in administering the medication. North Richland Hills became the first fire department to adopt the practice.

Paramedics there can now deliver antibiotics right away, decreasing the chances of septic patients dying by as much as 30 percent.

"Its not something that you see an immediate effect like some of our other drugs," said paramedic Preston Sloniger. "But, you know that down the road a few hours from now it's going to be making a difference because I could've gotten antibiotics going an hour before the hospital could."

Overall, the hospital has seen mortality rates from sepsis drop from around 50 percent, to below 20 percent. And they expect other fire departments will partner with HCA hospitals to follow North Richland Hills' lead.

"It's big," Dr. Yamada said. "This is going to be big."