Sepsis symptoms in adults: Devon chief financial officer who tipped the scales at 38th reveals how river swimming saved his life

A 38th CFO who lost 8th practice to complete a 6km open water swim was suddenly struck with kidney failure and life-threatening sepsis – and doctors told him swimming had saved his life.

Father-of-two Stuart Kilmister, 51, had only swum a few lengths at a time when he agreed in December 2018 to take part in the ambitious open water challenge known as the Bantham Swoosh, which saw gradually building up to 6km or 300 lengths from his local pool and losing 8th in the process.

Delighted in July 2019 when he completed the river swim in Devon in just 2 hours 16 minutes, Stuart – who lives in Worcester with his wife Ange, 52, a recruitment consultant, and their two children, Andrew, 27 , a policeman, and Sarah, 22, who works at McDonald’s – soon found it was a lifesaver.

Stuart says he owes Level Water and the Bantham Swoosh a debt of gratitude. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Stuart, who just four weeks later found himself dangerously ill, said: “In hospital I was told by a specialist that if my physical condition hadn’t been so good because of training, I would have died of kidney failure and sepsis.

“I went through two years of hospitalizations and procedures to fight the infection and it was only a few months ago that I started to feel like myself again.

“I owe my life to the people who organized this open water swim. Without it, I would be dead.

Stuart pictured here with his friend Andy and his swimming and fitness coaches. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Now recovered and training for his second 6K swim, Stuart recalls how he took on his first open water challenge after signing up with a buddy.

He said: “My friend Andy and I were having a few beers and honestly I don’t know how it went but I woke up the next morning having signed up for swimming the night before.

“We had even paid for our entrance, so there was no going back.”

It was such a feat. When I reached the finish line, I was over the moon.

Stuart Kilmister

With seven months to prepare for the event, Stuart began training.

He said: “I was a big guy, weighing in at 38th so it was quite daunting at first.

“I figured out that 6km was about 300 lengths in my local pool. I started small, just doing 40 and then 50 lengths at a time.

Stuart pictured here being helped out of the water after the swim test. (Collect/PA Real Life)

He added: “Over the next few months, I built up my stamina until I could swim 300 lengths, which took me about four hours in the pool.

“I ended up losing 8th in the process because I was swimming so much every week.”

Finishing the swim in just 2:16, Stuart was thrilled.

I owe my life to the people who organized this open water swim. Without it, I would be dead.

Stuart Kilmister

He said: “It was exhilarating. The currents were on my side which helped me get through the water.

“It was such an achievement. When I reached the finish line, I was over the moon. I was looking forward to entering other swimming events.

Stuart was still in good spirits after his swim when, four weeks later, he made a doctor’s appointment.

Stuart and Andy at the Bantham Swoosh. (Collect/PA Real Life)

He said: ‘I woke up that morning feeling quite uneasy and had trouble urinating.

“I just knew something was wrong so I went to my GP, who suspected I had a kidney infection and referred me to the Royal Worcestershire Hospital.”

Once there, Stuart’s health took a nosedive.

Stuart underwent several procedures to remove kidney stones from his kidneys. (Collect/PA Real Life)

He said: ‘Doctors were watching me but said if I wasn’t better I might have to be moved to another hospital.

“All my blood tests were going haywire due to the infection, that’s when they told me I had kidney failure.

“I was terrified and was rushed to Alexandra Redditch Hospital, also in Worcestershire, to the intensive care unit, where I fought the infection.”

Stuart trained for seven months before attending the Bantham Swoosh. (Collect/PA Real Life)

But Stuart’s situation became even more dangerous when he developed sepsis – a life-threatening reaction to an infection.

He said: “The doctors realized I had sepsis.

“I was getting worse and worse and it was pretty scary. I had a huge tube coming out of my neck for dialysis and I was hooked up to different drops.

I went through two years of hospitalizations and procedures in order to fight the infection.

Stuart Kilmister

He added: ‘I spent four days in intensive care with sepsis before being moved to the dialysis ward, where I spent a week. I was in a lot of pain and it was horrible.

“I was connected to all sorts of bags to evacuate the infection. The doctors discovered that I had kidney stones in both kidneys which prevented me from urinating properly.

“They cleared out as many infections as they could before I could go home.”

Stuart pictured here during the 6km swim event. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Stuart spent a total of three weeks in hospital before being released.

He said, “I still wasn’t well when I got home. I started feeling bad again and my kidneys were getting really sore.

“I called the hospital and they told me to come back.”

After dealing with this for almost two years, I felt such relief that it was all over.

Stuart Kilmister

He added: “I had a couple of stents put in and was cleared to go home just before Christmas.”

Realizing something was still wrong, as the pain continued, on New Years Eve, Stuart returned to the hospital and was admitted again.

He said: “It had gotten so bad that the doctors felt they had no choice but to create an artificial path from my kidney to a sac outside my body, so that I can urinate because the stones were blocking my bladder.”

Starting 38th, Stuart weighed 30th on the day of the open water swim. (Collect/PA Real Life)

He added: “It was an incredibly difficult time for me. The bag made me very uncomfortable and I hated having it.

“I had the sac for a year before having surgery to remove the stone from my left kidney. It failed as I still had an infection there so I needed a second operation to that they try again and luckily this time it worked.

Surgeons removed the stone via keyhole surgery and once Stuart recovered he underwent another operation in August 2021 to remove the stone from his right kidney.

I owe Level Water and Bantham Swoosh a debt of gratitude.

Stuart Kilmister

He said: ‘I had the second stone removed on my birthday. It was the best birthday present ever.

“After dealing with this for almost two years, I felt such relief that it was all over.

“I spent much of 2021 focusing on recovery and getting back to normal. I had worked pretty much through my illness and my team and boss had been very understanding.

Just four weeks after swimming, Stuart suffered kidney failure. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Stuart had been unable to swim since his illness, so he found his first visit to his local swimming pool in September 2021 very emotional.

He said: “It was really important for me to go back to swimming. I wanted to have the opportunity to try again.

“Getting back in the pool was very important to me.”

Stuart first competed in the Bantham Swoosh in July 2019 and will now complete his second event in July. (Collect/PA Real Life)

He added: “The Level Water team who organized the 6k swim in 2019 had stayed in touch with me the whole time and it really kept my spirits up while I went through treatment.

“They had even sent me a book by Ross Edgley, who was the first to swim in all of Britain.”

Since recovering from kidney failure, Stuart is now training for another 6k run.

Stuart was rushed to intensive care where he battled a septicaemic infection. (Collect/PA Real Life)

He said: “It’s come full circle for me. I’m swimming the Bantham Swoosh again in four weeks, which is the exact same swim I did in 2019.”

Meanwhile, now weighing 30 and rebuilding his fitness, he feels lucky to be alive.

He said: “When I went back to my GP after the ordeal he said he didn’t expect to see me again as he didn’t think I would make it.”

I am grateful for my health and excited to be back in the water in four weeks.

Stuart Kilmister

Stuart had a resting heart rate of 63 bpm which the British Heart Foundation says between 60 and 100 is considered normal, was “ridiculously low” for a man his size.

Now he feels his ordeal has given him a second chance at life.

He said: “I’m determined to make the best of it. I owe Level Water and Bantham Swoosh a debt of gratitude.

Stuart lost 8th in practice for the event. (Collect/PA Real Life)

He added: “Doing this swim in 2019 changed my life for the better because I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t done it.”

To give back, Stuart is raising funds to support them, as part of his next swim.

He said: “Level Water is a UK charity that uses the power of swimming to improve the lives of children with disabilities and I want to return the favor in any way possible.”

Now Stuart is training for his second 6K race. (Collect/PA Real Life)

He added: ‘I still can’t believe booking this open water swim with my friend while having a few beers ended up saving my life.

“But I’m grateful for my health and excited to be back in the water in four weeks.”

To sponsor Stuart, visit:

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