NORFOLK, Va. (WPVI) --A simple, inexpensive treatment could be the cure for a deadly infection that takes a quarter-million more lives each year - sepsis.
Last year, one of those was Oscar-winning actress Patty Duke.
Sepsis is basically a super infection.
It's the body's response when bacteria gets into the blood stream. It can lead to organ failure and death.
When all hope seemed to be lost for a young woman in January 2016, Dr. Paul Marik of Eastern Virginia Medical School recalled something he'd read a few weeks earlier - that septic patients have little or undetectable levels of vitamin C in their cells.
He thought it might help, and since the common steroid hydrocortisone works in a similar fashion, he asked nurses to combine Vitamin C and steroids, and inject them intravenously.
The patient improved overnight, and within 2 days, was well enough to leave the ICU.
Before long, he used the combo with 2 more patients seemingly destined to die.
They also recovered.
He then added thiamine (vitamin B-1) to the mix.
Now, 150 patients have been treated and have recovered.
Even the team was surprised.
"We thought it had to be a fluke. But then we started having patient after patient after patient that just had these remarkable results," ICU Team Coordinator Kathi Hudgins, R.N., said.
"It has potential to save thousands of lives," Dr. Marik said.
An independent lab at Old Dominion University also confirmed the treatment works.
John Contravas, Ph.D., who led the lab study, says the combination restored the barrier function of cells in the lungs.
In sepsis, they malfunction, leaking fluid that displaces air, cutting off oxygen to the blood.
More studies are needed, but Dr. Marik says there's no harm in trying because there are no side effects.
Dr. Marik says the entire course of treatment costs about $60, less than the cost of one dose of antibiotic.
For more on this breakthrough discovery, click here.