Fatal Sequence

The Killer Within

Kevin J. Tracey

Cloth • $23.95 • 238 pages
ISBN: 978-1932594065
Published March 2005

Paperback • $12.95 • 225 pages
ISBN: 978-1932594096
Published March 2006

Also available as an e-book

Severe sepsis is the third most common killer in the United States today. Kevin Tracey, a neurosurgeon and immunologist, offers a riveting account of a medical and scientific "perfect storm." Focusing on his battle to save a scalded baby's life, he shows us the deadly downward spiral of infection and organ failure that is severe sepsis.

Tracey uses this tragic example to explain in accessible language how the brain normally restrains the immune system and protects the patient from its lethal effects. We watch him face the challenges that arise in the child's case and learn how the immune system finally escapes the brain's control to indiscriminately kill normal cells along with, or even instead of, foreign microbes.

An important dispatch from the medical frontlines, Fatal Sequence is a narrative readers will long remember about a shocking, all too common event: death from complications of illness or injuries that never should have killed.


1. The ER

2. The Burn Unit

3. The OR

4. Shock

5. Pestilence

6. False Hope

7. Unraveling Shock

8. Unraveling Sepsis

9. Brain Control of the Fatal Sequence

10. Legacy


"I had great difficulty putting it down...Tracey is among the giants in sepsis research."
    –Journal of the American Medical Association

"The powerful and gripping story of one doctor's battle to save the life a severely burned child who has become the victim of overwhelming infection. It is medicine practiced at its purest and most noble, and all told in a prose that is easily understood."
    –Richard Selzer, author of Mortal Lessons and The Whistlers' Room