Lou DeGruy III’s energy is infectious. Talk to the
75-year-old for five minutes and you’ll find yourself with
a smile on your face. That’s the effect he has on people.
He enjoys sharing that upbeat spirit. Truthfully, he’s
had a desire to positively influence and help others for as
long as he can remember. He did it during six years in the
United States Air Force. He did it professionally throughout
his career in security, first as a security project manager
for the IRS and later with FedEx corporate security.
He always puts other people’s interests, happiness and
safety ahead of his own. But on the morning of February
25, 2010, he was the one who needed help.
DeGruy woke up at 2:00 a.m. in his home in
Collierville, Tennessee, USA. He was vomiting, had diarrhea
and was extremely cold. His wife Carmen put seven
blankets on him but they did nothing. He continued shivering.
Carmen drove him to their primary care physician,
who performed an ECG and sent him to the hospital.
DeGruy arrived in the emergency department dehydrated
and fatigued. He spent the next six days in the
intensive care unit (ICU) with acute pancreatitis and
severe sepsis. Before arriving in the ICU, DeGruy had
never heard of the latter condition. “I couldn’t even spell
sepsis,” DeGruy said with a laugh.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
defines sepsis as “a complication caused by the body’s
overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection,
which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and
death.” It is considered the leading cause of death from
infection in the United States, and it affects millions of
people nationwide each year. Often it can be challenging
to diagnose sepsis because it stems from an infection, and
potential symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions.
If not treated immediately though, sepsis can be
“The infection is bad enough, but the body’s reaction
to the infection often goes in the wrong direction,” said
Mark E. Mikkelsen, MD, MSCE, FCCM, director of the
medical ICU at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “That’s why we describe it
as a life-threatening condition. Things become very dire,
and that’s why, ultimately, the most important thing you
can do is seek medical attention.”
DeGruy confessed that most details from his ICU stay
were fuzzy, other than the fact he was “a pincushion” for
blood tests every four hours. One thing he remembered
was being impressed by his medical team’s honesty and
transparency. “They kept me informed of what they
suspected, possible treatments, updates every day plus a
chalkboard with diagrams that explained what was going
on,” DeGruy said. “This kept me at ease and informed. I
had complete trust in my doctors’ ability. I felt I was getting
the best treatment I could.”
Once sepsis is identified, the key to recovery is addressing
the infection, explained Mikkelsen. Sometimes that
means antibiotics alone. Other times it means surgery as
well. According to DeGruy, he relied—at least in part—
on divine intervention.
DeGruy doesn’t consider himself particularly spiritual—he
calls himself a lazy believer—but on his fourth
day in the ICU, his positivity faded. His prognosis was not
great, and he was in excruciating pain.
“I decided it was time for a chat with the Lord,”
DeGruy said. “I prayed, ‘Lord, please take away this
pain. I don’t know how much longer I can handle it. If
you are telling me this is my time to go, go ahead and
DeGruy had paused for what felt like minutes before
speaking that last sentence. As soon as it came out of his
mouth, though, he altered his prayer. “‘Lord,’” DeGruy
said, “‘forget about that last statement. Just take away the
The next time a nurse came into DeGruy’s room, he
asked for the strongest painkiller available. He doesn’t
know what the medicine was, but he was asleep within
seconds. When he woke up 90 minutes later, the pain was
gone, and it never returned. He was released from the
hospital two days later.
The official diagnosis was that DeGruy’s gallbladder
caused the infection, and he returned to the hospital
seven days later to have it removed.
Mikkelsen explained that the first few days—and even
weeks—of recovery are critical for sepsis survivors to
regain their pre-illness condition. In most instances, sepsis
survivors find themselves weak with a variety of cognitive
ailments. For many it is hard to fully comprehend what
they went through and survived; that is why the transparency
DeGruy experienced throughout his ICU stay was
As for DeGruy’s recovery, it took time to recognize
himself. Literally. DeGruy needed to renew his driver’s
license soon after his hospital stay, and when he received
his updated photo, he was convinced there was a mistake.
He needed to be reassured it was in fact his portrait.
As the weeks turned into months, though, DeGruy
returned to his old self. The biggest change in his lifestyle
was his retirement from FedEx. Despite having left the
workforce, he finds himself busier now than he was before
retirement. He is an emergency medical technician with
the Shelby County, Tennessee, Sheriff’s Office, a team
member of the West Tennessee Critical Incident Stress
Management Team and a Red Cross Disaster Spiritual
Care team member.
His primary goal in each position? To help others.
When he’s not helping strangers, he’s focused on his
family. He and Carmen have been married 55 years and
have five children, 10 grandchildren and two greatgrandchildren.
His family keeps him young and his spirit
upbeat. Seven years after nearly losing his life, DeGruy is
determined to enjoy every minute life gives him.
As for advice to other sepsis survivors or people currently
battling the condition, his message is simple:
“Believe in your medical team, believe in yourself and
believe in your support system,” DeGruy says. “I share
my story with anyone who wants to hear it because I want
to prove there is life to be lived after sepsis.”