WAHIAWA, Hawaii - Sepsis is a damaging health problem caused when your body fights an infection but something goes wrong. Doctors say the elderly at more at risk for sepsis.

Those who survive septic shock may have a long road to recovery, which includes physical therapy. 56-year-old Taumaoe Kapesi works hard in physical therapy for a leg infection that developed into sepsis. He scraped his leg at home, and days later, he describes, "I didn't know my leg was messed up. I did everything for [it, but] the next morning I couldn't move."

Kapesi asked his daughter to take him to Wahiawa General Hospital, where he slept in a hospital bed for three days. "For two or three days I couldn't move," he recalls.

He's part of a growing number of people across Hawaii and the US who suffered from sepsis. Linda Kurihara, DPT, OCS, CSCS is the Wahiawa General Hospital Outpatient Rehab Manager. "I myself have seen a lot more patients coming to the hospital for sepsis," she comments.

Kurihara says Kapesi is one of the lucky ones. Some people spend up to half a year in a hospital bed! "It really just debilitates you. Gets you weak- more than what you imagine," explains Kurihara.

Sepsis leads to immobilization as your body is fighting the infection. "During this time that you're in bed, research shows that people - especially adults 65 years and older - will significantly lose the crucial muscles required to perform activities of daily living (eating, feeding, dressing, walking). That could lead to further readmission and hospitalizations leading to a poorer outcome of health. The quicker you rehab, the higher chance you can get back to what you were doing. Each day is crucial," Kurihara adds. 

So weak, people have to learn basic functions again. "You can't do the basic things like getting up from the bed. Yeah, it's very debilitating. Putting on a shirt, feeding yourself," describes Kurihara of the simple tasks that need retraining after a bout with sepsis.

Functional strength and power to do basic activities of daily living can all be compromised after sepsis. "The best form of rehabilitation is emphasis on coordination training and resistance exercise to avoid loss of muscle mass and function. It's also worth mentioning on the importance of proper rest and nutrition to avoid overtiring the already compromised muscles and nervous system," continues Kurihara.

Physical therapists work with patients to relearn those skills. "Learning how to get from lying to sitting. We teach special techniques to preserve your energy," she notes. 

And they remind the caregivers to be patient yet firm. "Understand the balance of how much to push them, but also where their limitations are. If you don't get them to do anything and they're just bedridden, it will not get better."

Physical therapy can take months, but she says people can recover. Kurihara notes, "The window of opportunity to return to your prior level of function is immediate and limited. Once your physician has cleared you for rehab, it is crucial to begin immediately, fully participate, and finish rehab to maximize your full potential."