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Venezia: Doctor could be onto an effective treatment for sepsis

Over the years I've shared some of my personal life with readers.

One column in particular, back in 2014 about how my husband, Stan, almost died from sepsis, struck a chord with many readers, as I explained how common this deadly condition is.

This past week, an interesting article about Dr. Paul Marik, head of the general intensive care unit at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Virginia, piqued my interest, as he claims to have found an effective treatment for sepsis.

If you don't know about sepsis, you should. It kills millions worldwide, and is the third largest contributor to deaths of adults over 65 in the United States.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences estimates that between 28% and 50% of patients with sepsis die, "far more than the number of U.S. deaths from prostate cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined."

"Sepsis is a major challenge in the intensive care unit, where it's one of the leading causes of death," according to the institute's website. "It is also a leading cause of people being readmitted to the hospital. Sepsis arises unpredictably and can progress rapidly."

Often misdiagnosed because patients present fever, chills, rapid breathing and heart rate, rash, confusion and disorientation and other flu-like symptoms, the malady can go unchecked and untreated. A patient in full septic shock can die within 24 hours.

Sepsis can be caused by kidney or gall stones, an operation, even a tooth extraction. This condition is caused by an overwhelming immuneal response to infection.

Immune chemicals released into the blood to combat the infection trigger widespread inflammation, which leads to blood clots and leaky vessels. This results in impaired blood flow, which damages organs by depriving them of nutrients and oxygen.

In severe cases, one or more organs fail. In worst-case scenarios, blood pressure drops, the heart weakens and the patient spirals toward septic shock.

Once this happens, multiple organs — lungs, kidneys, liver — may quickly fail, and the patient can die, which is why Dr. Marik's protocol is a potential game-changer.

Marik has faced many sepsis life and death situations in his career, but it was in January 2016 that things changed, according to a press release on the Eastern Virginia Medical School Magazine site in March.

Trying to save a dying patient, Marik tried something revolutionary. As the site explains, Marik had recently read about "Vitamin C as a potential treatment for sepsis, and recalled that steroids, a common treatment for sepsis, might work well in concert with the Vitamin C."

Both were safe and FDA approved, so he intravenously administered the Vitamin C and steroid combination. Within hours his patient was recovering. Two days later the patient was well enough to leave the intensive care unit.

Two more near-fatal patients were given the protocol and survived.

Marik and his team quickly adopted the combination therapy as standard practice.

Nicknamed the "Marik Protocol," I wondered if Dr. Andre Vovan, executive medical director for acute care at Hoag Hospital, was aware of the findings.

Dr. Vovan tells me he knows of Marik, and "we are getting in contact with him."

He went on to say that Marik is well-published and well-respected, "the real deal," in this field.

Hoag has a sepsis nurse in the emergency room 24 hours a day and has a high survival rate, I'm told.

Vovan's keeping an eye on Marik and his team, as they continue to collect data.

But there haven't been any clinical trials as of yet because those could cost millions, and National Public Radio reported March 30 that the treatment, while promising, needed more study before anyone could reach conclusions about its effectiveness.

But that's not slowing down Marik

Vovan says in the next month or so he will be meeting with the sepsis collaborative of the 17 hospitals in the St. Joseph network, which includes Hoag, to discuss the treatment.

Vovan says this could push forward organizing a clinical trial.

But as Marik points out in his article, "pharmaceutical companies have conducted more than 100 clinical trials and spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the last 25 years in an unsuccessful search for a sepsis treatment."

Dr. Vovan remains optimistic about Marik's findings.

"He is putting all the patients in a data base, and it is good evidence that he's on to something," says Vovan.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

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