Inside TV legend John Burgess’ near-death experience at Royal Perth Hospital during battle with sepsis

Legendary Australian television host John Burgess has opened up about the severe battle with sepsis which nearly killed him.

The 79-year-old, who famously hosted Wheel of Fortune during the 1980s and 90s, contracted the illness from a mystery infection in February.

Within hours, Mr Burgess went from feeling mild flu symptoms after a shingles vaccination to being close to death and in intensive care at the Royal Perth Hospital.

“At first I felt maybe a bit nauseous, bit drowsy, achy in the joints and pretty soon I just felt like I was going to throw up,” he said.

“That was at seven o’clock in the morning and by 7.30 I couldn’t get off the toilet, so my second son had to lift me off the toilet and carry me into the bedroom.

Pic of John Burgess who is celebrating 50 years in the entertainment business.
Camera IconJohn Burgess battled sepsis earlier this year. Credit: News Corp Australia

“I just thought, like most blokes do, ‘I’ll be okay, I’ll just take a couple of Panadol’ but I was sort of just passing out and thankfully my wife thought to call an ambulance.”

Mr Burgess went on to describe how his medical ordeal worsened drastically after he was rushed to hospital.

“I was in the ambulance for probably nearly an hour and they were stabilising me with whatever,” he said.

“Once again, I just kept passing out or nodding off, one of the two and they were saying ‘John, John, wake up’ and they took me to Royal Perth Hospital’s emergency department.

“I was there for about five or six hours before they put me in ICU.

“So from waking up at seven o’clock in the morning, to about 5.30 in the afternoon, I went from being at home to ending up in ICU and I was there for four days and they just pumped me full of antibiotics.”

Mr Burgess credits his survival to his wife calling an ambulance so soon after symptoms developed and the care he received while in hospital.

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Camera IconHost John Burgess and hostess Adriana Xenides on the set of Channel 7 TV program ‘Wheel of Fortune’ in 1987. Credit: News Corp Australia

“You need to stop the spread of this infection, as the onset is really quick. That’s the problem,” he said.

“A lot of people who get these sorts of symptoms don’t do anything about it.”

In the months since his battle, Mr Burgess has continued to experience a myriad of ongoing side effects, but has returned to some media duties on Perth TV and radio.

“I mean, I handled the problems, but sometimes I just sort’ve forget things. You know, someone will tell me something,” he said.

“My hair’s been falling out, too; not that bad, but certainly started to a bit more rapidly than normal, but they warned me about that.

“I have no energy from it; I wake up in the morning feeling pretty good, but by lunchtime I think, ‘Hmm, I better have a lie down,’” he said.

Mr Burgess has since pledged to raise awareness of sepsis and its symptoms in Australia, alongside the release of the Sepsis Clinical Care Standard on Thursday.

TV personality John Burgess with his wife at opening of Star City Casino, Sydney, 26/11/97.
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Camera IconTV personality John Burgess credits his wife Jan with helping to save his life. Credit: News Corp Australia

The standard ensures that a patient presenting with signs and symptoms of sepsis receives optimal care, from symptom onset through to discharge from hospital and survivorship care.

“(It’s important) to be associated with the launch of the clinical care standard for sepsis, which is I think is a fantastic initiative, to spread the word about an extremely dangerous condition, which, if not treated early, can lead to tragic circumstances,” he said.

“As a survivor, I applaud everybody involved. I think it’s a great initiative. Just getting the word out there.

“You know, as I say, that’s a concern and something that people don’t know a lot about. I mean, more people die of sepsis than in car accidents.”

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition which arises when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs.

There are more than 55,000 cases of sepsis and 8,700 sepsis-related deaths in people of all ages in Australia each year.

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