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Sepsis…How One Simple Cut…Lead to Death.

The boy who died too soon…how a simple scratch on the arm led to his death from the worldwide killer known as Septicaemia.

I knew this family. I knew this little boy. And it was such a shock when this happened. But if you had asked me what was Septicaemia, back then, my reply would have been easy – I had no idea, never heard of it. Now, however, whenever I even hear the word Septicaemia or Sepsis as it’s also known, I shudder, and I think of one family, in particular that one young boy, taken too soon.

Let me take you back…

When I moved to ‘The Big Apple’ in my early twenties, I will never forget the kindness and welcome one man, Ciaran Staunton, and indeed his family showed me. He gave me my first chance in a city where I didn’t know many people. I was fortunate enough to meet his wife and his two beautiful children on a few occasions. His son Rory, even though I only met him a few times, left a lasting impression on me. An eleven year old at the time, I listened in awe to his tales of sport (and in particular basketball), politics and general chit chat; with so much knowledge about issues I knew little about!

I’ll never forget the day I heard the tragic news – I was dumbfounded. Rory had a minor fall while playing one of his favourite sports, basketball, resulting in a small cut to his arm. But little did anyone know that a few days later this small injury would have such a heart-breaking ending.

You see, after receiving the cut, a deadly toxin entered his body and he later died, from what should have been a preventable infection – Septicaemia. It was such a shock to their entire community. And it raised a lot of questions.

So what is Septicaemia? It is a serious condition caused by the body’s response to an infection. The infection can result in the body releasing chemicals which can lead to inflammation that can fatally damage the organs. The infection at times can possibly lead to a life-threatening drop in blood pressure, also known as septic shock. It can, like in Rory’s case, also lead to death.

So what are the symptoms? According to The Rory Staunton Foundation website, common symptoms include:[i]

  • High temperature
    • High pulse rate
    • Chills
    • Low blood pressure
    • Mottling of skin
    • Confusion
    • Lightheaded

When I first heard about this, I thought there must have been a way to prevent Rory from getting Septicaemia. And so I researched it and what I found was that the best way to prevent Septicaemia is to prevent infection, something that is not always possible. In Rory’s case, he was just a normal child doing what children do best – playing. Unfortunately in life we can’t wrap ourselves up in cotton wool. So what can we do?

Medical professionals need to recognise the symptoms early, as well as treating the bacterial infections promptly. They need to also practice good hygiene, recommend vaccinations that children can take and explain in simple terms why these vaccinations are so important. People need to be made aware of the dangerous circumstances an infection can lead to if it is not treated properly. As citizens, we also need to practice good hygiene. Parents can help protect their children from septicaemia by taking the advice from medical experts and getting their child vaccinated. As a patient, one needs to go to the doctor immediately if you suspect you have an infection.

I am so surprised that many people still have no idea what Septicaemia is, even though it is such a worldwide killer. Let me remind you briefly, for those of you who don’t remember, the death of Savita Halappanavar hit our own news headlines in Ireland in 2012. She died one week after been admitted to University Hospital Galway, when she was 17 weeks pregnant and miscarrying, with her condition rapidly worsening as a result of septicaemia. So how many does it affect, and who? Well, according to The Sepsis Alliance website:[ii]

  • Sepsis affects over 26 million people worldwide each year
  • It is the largest killer of children and new-born infants in the world
  • Sepsis is a medical emergency that requires urgent attention and treatment
  • Mortality increases 8% every hour that treatment is delayed.
  • Sepsis contributes to 1 in every 2 to 3 deaths in U.S. hospital, and most of these patients had sepsis at admission.

Recently in Ireland, Minister for Health, Leo Varadker, published new guidelines which were put in place to improve the performance of hospitals in treating people with this deadly infection. These new guidelines came about two years after the death of Savita Halappanavar from the condition.  As reported in the Irish Times, “Mr Varadkar, speaking at the launch of the guidelines in Dublin Castle, pointed out sepsis is the tenth leading cause of death worldwide and the management of its extreme manifestations, severe sepsis and septic shock are considered a time-dependent medical emergency.[iii]

After Rory’s untimely death in the USA, his own parents, Ciaran and Orlaith, established The Rory Staunton Foundation. By doing this, they wish to raise awareness so not only medical professionals, but parents, teachers and all adults are able to identify the symptoms of septicaemia. They wish to ensure that nobody else has to die from something that can be so easily prevented.

So I want to “do my bit” and I hope this blog helps make people more aware of this worldwide issue. More information is available at the websites listed below. I’d also just like to note that World Sepsis Day took place on September 13th 2014 and hopefully will happen every year on that date.[iv]

Three years ago, I was none the wiser about the dangers of Septicaemia. Not until I heard about the young boy, who had so much to live for, and had so much to give to the world but tragically lost his battle to it. His name lives on through The Rory Staunton Foundation.