Ciaran Staunton’s son was 12 when he cut his elbow during a basketball game. When he became ill overnight, his mother, Orlaith, from Drogheda Co Louth, brought him to a paediatrician in New York where he exhibited low blood pressure, pain, fever and mottled skin.
The paediatrician diagnosed a stomach bug and a second doctor at an emergency department later agreed with this original diagnosis. The second doctor took blood tests for other infections but didn’t check them before discharging Rory.
Three days later he was dead. “His sweat was still warm as we cradled his body,” Ciaran, from Westport, Co Mayo, told medical staff at the South/South West Hospital Group Sepsis Conference organised by the Mercy Hospital Foundation.
Neither doctor had realised that he was “in the throes of what would prove to be an overwhelming, toxic response to a strep infection in his bloodstream, most likely acquired through the cut to his elbow”.
“We had never heard of the word sepsis until our son was dead. If we had been able to ask, ‘is this sepsis?’ he could have been treated,” says Ciaran. “We didn’t even know sepsis existed. I didn’t know sepsis could kill our child until it was too late.”
Sepsis is the body’s extreme and life threatening response to infection. According to the HSE, up to 10,000 people were infected in this country last year and up to a fifth of these will die from an infection that in most cases can be treated. Shockingly, sepsis, largely unknown by most people, is the largest killer of children in the world. Worldwide, it also kills more people than breast cancer, prostate cancer and HIV/Aids combined each year.
The HSE has launched a major sepsis awareness campaigns for medical staff and want people to become as aware of the symptoms, as they are aware of the signs of meningitis.
Since Rory died spreading awareness has become a lifelong aim for the Stauntons and Rory’s mum, Orlaith has just been shortlisted for a 2016 L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth honoree. If the public votes for her, she will be awarded $25,000 for the Rory Staunton Foundation which she and Ciaran set up after their son’s death.
Their campaign has borne incredible results. The ‘Rory Protocols’ were made law in New York. These mandatory hospital protocols ensure that if a patient fails a sepsis symptom checklist, he or she is immediately put on broad based antibiotics — even before lab results are returned.
It’s estimated that 20,000 lives have been saved in New York in the past three years because of the ‘Rory Protocols’ which have been extended to South Dakota, Indiana, and Massachusetts.
In Ireland, the Sepsis-6 clinical guidelines were launched by the former health minister Leo Varadkar two years ago and up to eight HSE staff and a national steering committee are driving the campaign.
“Audits are now taking place to ascertain how acute hospitals are complying with the guidelines. The key message of Sepsis-6 is that six interventions must take place within an hour of suspected sepsis: antibiotics, fluids, oxygen must be given and blood cultures, urine tests and bloods must be taken,” said Vida Hamilton, national clinical lead on sepsis and consultant anaesthetist at Waterford University Hospital.