Why It's Important to Know About Sepsis

By: Orlaith Staunton

Staunton_Family.jpgSeptember is Sepsis Awareness Month. Although sepsis is the leading cause of children’s deaths globally, the majority of Americans have never heard the word. In the Unites States alone, sepsis kills more than 250,000 annually. For that reason, it is imperative that people, particularly parents, know about sepsis and its signs.

On March 28th, 2012 my son Rory, a 5ft 9in, 160 lb. healthy 12 year old boy fell and grazed his arm playing basketball. The following day Rory had a fever and began throwing up. We brought him to his pediatrician. By this time he had developed a pain in his leg, chills and shortness of breath. He complained of feeling dizzy and his skin had tiny purple marks on his leg. Our pediatrician noted all these symptoms and decided he had “acute febrile gastritis”-a stomach virus. She suggested we take him to our local hospital for rehydration, which we did. Despite Rory’s worsening condition, the medical staff concurred with the diagnosis of a stomach virus and sent him home. The following night we returned to the hospital with our son where he died on April 01, 2012.

After his death and in the midst of our grief we started investigating what had killed our child. How could he be so healthy on a Wednesday and dead on Sunday? It seemed incomprehensible. The answer was sepsis. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition caused by the overwhelming immune response to infection. The infection prompts the body to release chemicals but the chemicals themselves cause widespread inflammation which can fatally damage the organs. Any type of infection can cause sepsis, infections as common as pneumonia, wound infections and even bug bites. Anyone can get sepsis. Anyone.

Sepsis kills quickly and indiscriminately – but it doesn’t have to. Sepsis is preventable and treatable. When caught early, it can be treated simply with intravenous antibiotics and fluids. We are not waiting for a cure for sepsis. We don’t need one. What is needed is for the general public to be aware of the signs of sepsis so the can seek immediate medical treatment and for the medical establishment to improve their ability to diagnose and rapidly treat the condition.

Following Rory’s death, we set up the Rory Staunton Foundation for Sepsis Prevention in our son’s name. Our mission is to ensure that no other child or young adult dies of sepsis resulting from the lack of a speedy diagnosis and immediate medical treatment. This year, we are launching the first ever Family Council on Sepsis. The Council, a coalition of those affected by sepsis, will act as a support network while dedicating itself to public education and encouraging all fifty states to adopt improved protocols within hospitals for the diagnosis and treatment of sepsis.

Rory Staunton should not have died, his death was preventable. We encourage you to know the signs of sepsis so you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

Orlaith Staunton is the Co-Founder of the Rory Staunton Foundation for Sepsis Prevention.

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