On Saturday, University of Central Oklahoma senior Meagan McLain will walk across the stage at commencement. The 24-year-old will shake hands, receive her diploma and toss her cap in the air. And with her newly minted degree in marketing, she’ll think of all that lies ahead for her: a career, a family, a life.
But three years ago, graduation was the furthest thing from the Midwest City native’s mind. Her fever was 106 degrees and her heart was beating 180 times a minute as she fought for her life in the ICU at the Midwest Regional Medical Center. Then she stopped breathing.
“She was dying,” says McLain’s mother, Monica Parham. “I was losing my baby girl.”
McLain’s body was succumbing to sepsis, a deadly blood infection that kills more than 200,000 Americans each year. McLain developed the condition after a bout with a lingering bacterial infection, which her doctors now believe was caused by simple skin Staphylococcus.
Fortunately for McLain, her life was saved when her doctors gave her Xigris, the only FDA-approved treatment for severe sepsis. The drug is based on discoveries made by Charles Esmon, Ph.D., and Fletcher Taylor, M.D., at OMRF.
Through more than a decade’s worth of research at OMRF, Esmon and Taylor discovered a method of controlling the body’s blood-clotting cascade. Eli Lilly and Company built on this research to create Xigris, which works by helping to normalize the body’s clotting system and calm inflammation caused by sepsis.
McLain’s doctors administered the drug within hours of her admission to the hospital. According to Taylor, that quick response made all the difference.
“It was a miracle of timing,” Taylor said. “They got Xigris to Meagan at the right time, and it worked just the way we want it to.”
Still, that result would not become clear for some time. In the interim, she lay in a medication-induced coma, necessary to counter the severe discomfort caused by the intubation of her lungs.
Fourteens days after she first entered the hospital, McLain awoke from her coma. She remembers that the first thing she tried to do was say a single word: “Mom.”
The road back was long and hard. In the weeks and months that followed, she endured session after session of grueling physical therapy. “I’d break into tears every time the physical therapist came, because I couldn’t get my body to work the way I wanted it to,” she said. “I just wanted to be normal again.”
Unlike many sepsis survivors, McLain emerged with full organ function and all of her limbs intact. She returned to college, and three years after sepsis nearly took her life, it’s like it was never there.
“I know that if it wasn’t for Dr. Taylor and Dr. Esmon, I might not be here,” said McLain, who met the OMRF researchers for the first time this spring. “Xigris gave me the chance to survive. What I do with it from now on is up to me.”