A Silent Epidemic: A Documentary That Could Save Your Life

In August of 2008, I lost my father to a number of healthcare-associated infections including C. diff, MRSA, and pseudomonas. As I began my freshman year at Providence College the following week, I started doing research to learn more about what happened to my dad, and what I learned astonished me. HAIs infect approximately 1.7 million individuals annually in the United States alone, killing nearly 99,000 of those who become infected. I also learned that these infections are largely preventable.

As I learned more about healthcare-associated infections, I knew I had to do something to help bring that information to others. The perfect opportunity arose when I became a film minor, with the hope of eventually making a film to raise awareness. In January of 2012, I contacted Pat Mastors, who I had met the winter after my dad passed away. Pat lost her father in 2007 as a result of C. diff, and has since become a huge advocate for patient safety and awareness, creating the Patient Pod, which is a tool to help keep patients safe in hospitals, nursing homes, and other related environments. She has also been an immense help in the production of this film, as she put me in contact with a number of individuals across the country, and also set up my interview with Dr. David Lowe, an infectious disease specialist who saved the life of one of her close friends. Dr. Lowe’s interview was also immensely helpful, as he explained complicated scientific information in a way that the average person can easily understand.

Another interviewee is Doreen Bettencourt, who became a registered nurse after surviving sepsis. I was put in contact with Doreen after my aunt Liz saw a post on Facebook from Doreen saying she would soon be travelling to Washington, DC to speak about her horrifying experiences while fighting sepsis, and subsequently going back to school to become a nurse. I can’t thank my aunt enough for setting me up with Doreen, as her story is so important to the film since she is a survivor.

My aunt Liz’s story is also a very important part of my story, as well as the film itself. Two years before my dad was hospitalized, my aunt’s husband died as a result of medical error. Because of this, we did a lot of research before my dad’s surgery, yet as the movie explains, our efforts were not enough to prevent the infections my dad caught. Since she lives over an hour away from us, my aunt Liz stayed at our house during the six weeks that my dad was in the hospital. She, as well as our entire family, experienced every moment of my dad’s suffering, rushing to the hospital every time we were called in the middle of the night being told he might not make it. While I hope to eventually extend the film to include interviews with my entire family, I was also able to include both of my grandparents and my mom. I truly appreciate their willingness to help me with this film, since I know how hard it is to talk about what happened.

As a Psychology major, I became very interested in the field of Health Psychology, where I was fortunate enough to be able to work with my professor Dr. Mary O’Keeffe on an independent study about medical error. As this study occurred during the same semester that I was working on this film, she graciously allowed me to interview her to explain the issue of healthcare-associated infections from a psychological perspective.

Through my work with this project, as well as several others related to HAIs, I hope to make people more aware about what a serious issue this is, and what can be done to prevent it from happening to them. A Silent Epidemic is not in any way an attack on the medical field; it is rather a calling to all people that there are a number of things that can be done to prevent HAIs if we work together. I know that there will still be people out there who disagree, but I hope that the majority of those individuals will still take the necessary steps to prevent this from happening to others.

Having to watch my dad die as a result of something that could have been prevented had we known more has been the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with in my life. Working on this project has definitely been a challenge, as it forced me to relive the horrors of the six weeks my dad spent in intensive care. Every time I wanted to call it quits, I reminded myself that if I could help one person to avoid experiencing what I did, then it would be worth all the sleepless nights I spent on this project. If there is one thing I learned from the eighteen years I was lucky enough to have with my dad, it’s that you need to stand up for what you believe in, even if that means doing so alone. While I have lost a number of friends over the past few years as a result of my dedication to raising awareness about HAIs, I’ve also been fortunate enough to have a number of other people in my life, both new and old, who believe in and support this cause.

I truly appreciate everyone who took part in making this film. Not only did all of their help and courageousness make this film possible, but they have all taught me that there are good people out there, and have filled my life with the happiness that was lacking for such a long time after I lost my dad. I also have to thank my film professor Fr. Ken Gumbert for allowing me to work on this project for his class.

For more information about this film and to contact me, please visit A Silent Epidemic on Facebook. I look forward to hearing from viewers, as I hope to do more with this film in terms of making a longer version with more stories and information.

PLEASE share the link to this film with others so that more people can become aware. If nothing else, please take my story, and the information provided in this film and use it to help yourself and your loved ones. If we work together as patients, healthcare professionals, and advocates, I truly believe we can bring an end to this silent epidemic.

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