Maria Campanini lost her sister Gina to sepsis, aged just 30, on 14th September 2023 – the day after Sepsis Awareness Day.
On behalf of her whole family, Maria is sharing Gina’s story and delivers three key messages about this devastating condition.
On Monday 4th September, Gina started feeling poorly with flu-like symptoms. She soldiered on, until the Thursday of that week when she called in sick to work as a primary school teacher, and visited her GP who told her it was likely just a viral illness.
Maria stresses that her sister was otherwise the picture of perfect health: “She exercised every day, she was a proper gym queen. She cared passionately about maintaining a really healthy diet. She used to say a colourful diet was a good diet, with loads of fruit and veg and nutrients, and she’d get new recipes and she was a wonderful cook. She never drank alcohol.”
Her mum and brother were also poorly at the same time, but Gina told her family that it felt like she’d been hit by a bus. Maria said: “She had a tight chest, muscle pain. The GP she saw actually took her temperature at 39 degrees, but reassured her that she’d only been unwell for two days. It was likely to be a virus, no prescription required; drink lots of fluids, take paracetamol and monitor herself.”
But despite the reassurance from the GP, Gina continued to deteriorate, calling for an ambulance in the early hours of the following morning after she struggled to breathe. However, due to the wait for an ambulance she was taken to A&E by her parents instead. Maria highlights the rapid deterioration that occurred – from walking into the GP surgery the day before to being hospitalised.
“If you feel like you’re dying, let it be known. Raise alarm bells. Perhaps if she had gone to hospital sooner, this might have been prevented. But we don’t know. We’ll never know.”
Upon arrival to A&E, nurses struggled to take Gina’s blood and were concerned about its colour. Gina was admitted to intensive care, and put under general anaesthetic. The following six days were an agonising period for her family, with Gina transferred to a specialist lungs and heart hospital after a Strep A infection had made its way to her heart valve. In that time, Gina’s family spoke to UKST volunteers at the hospital about sepsis recovery; although tragically, they would not need the recovery information for Gina.
Later, Gina’s family would learn the underlying Strep A ‘super infection’ which caused sepsis was the result of a devastating sequence of chest infection, viral pneumonia, the flu, and bacterial pneumonia. Maria said: “It is shocking because I thought that sepsis is when people get a cut and then bacteria gets in and the body has a terrible reaction to it. I’ve always been one of those people that carries antibacterial wipes and Savlon, or Germolene around for every scrape or graze, and I’ve always thought about sepsis in that way. I had no idea it could stem from a chest infection just from breathing in bad bacteria.”
Gina did her best to fight off the infection and the sepsis, and made some small improvements, but then subsequently suffered a stroke after the Strep A infection reached a heart valve. Her family were taken to a side room and told that she wouldn’t wake up – and they were forced to turn off her life support on Thursday 14th September. Maria said:
“My sister Gina was just such a light in so many peoples’ lives. 300 people attended her funeral and everyone felt loved so deeply by her, all her friends and family, she would just do anything for those people that she loved and she would use any excuse to bring us all together.”
Now, her family are grateful that Gina documented her extraordinary life so extensively on Instagram, and are able to revisit videos of her singing and pictures of her travels to help keep her memory alive.
They have been galvanised to raise awareness and fundraise for the UK Sepsis Trust in her memory, and have so far raised an incredible £11,300 and counting. Maria will be taking on the London Landmarks Half Marathon in April 2024 in her sister’s memory, with the rest of the family coming together to take on the Three Peaks Challenge in June.
Maria said: “I think I speak for anyone that has a sister. She is just your best friend: the person that understands you best, loves you most. She gets to know every version of you; sees you grow up, she’s there at the beginning and she should be there at the end. She’s a friend for life. My sister was 30 and at 26, I know that I won’t ever get over this. But I’ve read a bit about grief, which I’ve never experienced before, so I’m learning, but I just trust that I will learn to live with it. Grief comes because love came first. I keep telling myself that and every day, I won’t just live for me, but I live for her too. And she’ll be with me always, I’m sure.”
Donate to Gina’s JustGiving page here.