Sepsis, also called blood poisoning, is often known as the “hidden killer” because it can be difficult to detect. It’s the body’s extreme response to an infection and can cause the immune system to go into overdrive.
It happens when an infection you already have - in your skin, lungs, urinary tract, or somewhere else - triggers a chain reaction throughout your body.
Although treatable in many cases, the UK Sepsis Trust says at least 48,000 deaths a year in the UK are related to sepsis.Many of us know someone who has experienced sepsis – either directly themselves, or through a loved one. This includes colleagues here at Hugh James.
A friend of a colleague in our family law team was affected last year when her 11-year-old son died. She has kindly agreed to share her experience, in the hope that it may help others.
Ieuan was just 11 years old when he suddenly and tragically lost his life to Meningococcal Septicaemia and Sepsis.
Like any other 11-year-old boy, Ieuan was full of life, just starting out on his journey of secondary school, and he was also an Able Junior Sea Cadet - something he had great pride and passion in. The weekend before he became ill, Ieuan had even been on a weekend training camp with Sea Cadets!
Ieuan had gone to spend the weekend with his dad on 22 November last year. Upon his return, on 24 November, Ieuan was feeling unwell, complaining of upset tummy and generally feeling tired and lethargic. I gave Ieuan Calpol and told Ieuan to go up to bed to rest (assuming it to be something viral). I went up to check on Ieuan an hour later and he was in the bathroom and had diarrhoea - this confirmed to me that he had an upset tummy. I put Ieuan back to bed.
I went to check on him a little while later. Ieuan asked for another drink but seemed ok. When I went up to bed myself, I checked on Ieuan again. I noticed a patch on the floor and realised Ieuan had been sick, I popped the light on to see, so I could clean up and as I looked at Ieuan, I realised he was now covered head to toe in a deep purple rash. Ieuan’s eyes looked glazed over, and although he was speaking, he wasn’t making much sense.
I immediately called 999 and, after an initial assessment, we were told we would have a long wait for an ambulance. Ieuan deteriorated quickly, so I called 999 again and an ambulance was sent straight away. They were amazing trying to help Ieuan and getting us to the hospital ASAP. The critical care team were waiting for us and they began work straight away.
I felt like the whole thing was a big blur. I was just sat on a chair, watching 13 people all working their hardest and trying their best to save my precious son.
The Doctor came over and explained to me that Ieuan was very, very sick, and if they could stabilise him, we would be moving to the intensive care unit. They told me that they believed Ieuan had Sepsis and Meningitis, but they were still waiting for results. Ieuan went into cardiac arrest 3 times, the third time, unfortunately, they could not revive him and bring him back to me.
I am very grateful for the care we received from all the healthcare staff and the initial paramedics. The ongoing support from the special bereavement nurse and the follow-on care from a charity called ’2 Wish Upon A Star’, has been exceptional, despite having Covid-19 restrictions and complications.
I remember sitting there, blaming myself, I knew about sepsis and I knew about meningitis, but why couldn’t I stop this from happening? I tried to act as quickly as I could, but it still wasn’t enough to save our son.
On 25 November 2019, I lost my first born, my special, precious son, and my other children lost their super big brother. Our lives and our world changed forever.
The shock of my young son, dying so quickly, especially after such a short bout of illness, is so painful to hear, but it is a reminder of just how quickly sepsis can have its terrible effects, and how important it is for action to be rapidly taken.
Ieuan had a send-off and a wake that we know he would have been very proud of. Ieuan received a full guard of honour from South Wales District Sea Cadets, and also had the Royal British Legion play The Last Post complete with Stand Bearers. Ieuan’s friends and teachers from both schools were also there.
The church was so full, people were having to stand to come and pay their respects. Ieuan has touched the lives of so many and will forever be remembered. We were so very proud to call him our son.
The signs and symptoms of Sepsis
Sepsis can be difficult to identify because many of the symptoms can mimic flu. Such symptoms can include chills, fever or low body temperature, light headiness due to low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, shaking, skin rash and warm skin. Click here to see an infographic on how to spot symptoms.
There is no one sign, and symptoms present differently between adults and children.
At Hugh James, we work closely with the charity UK Sepsis Trust in helping to raise awareness of sepsis and providing advice to those seeking help.
If not treated immediately, sepsis can result in organ failure and death. Yet with early diagnosis, it can be treated with antibiotics. Sadly, we’re also instructed by clients who have experienced the effects of delays in the recognition and treatment of sepsis.
World Sepsis Day, held every year on 13 September, is a useful opportunity to shine a light on the signs, symptoms, dangers and potential heartache of this infection - in the hope that it helps others avoid the deadly consequences.
Mari Rosser, Head of the Clinical Negligence team at Hugh James, says: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with the UK Sepsis Trust for the second consecutive year, supporting campaigns, fundraising and raising awareness of the condition, which is often not recognised until it is too late. We hear about tragic cases like Ieuan’s all too often and want to help make a difference to other families going through similar things, ensuring they have all the help and support they need, both from a legal and practical perspective.”
Find out about the work of the UK Sepsis Trust by visiting their website www.sepsistrust.org and help support families like Ieuan’s.