A story on Self.com tells the important story of a young boy who tragically died of a sepsis infection.
Rory Staunton was in middle school gym class when he dove for a ball and fell, cutting his arm in the process, his family tells SELF. He ended up developing the life-threatening complication after his cut became infected.Rory’s gym teacher didn’t wash his wound—instead, he just put two Band-Aids on it, Rory’s mom, Orlaith, tells SELF. The next day, Rory had a high fever, so his parents took him to the pediatrician. “He was very weak,” Orlaith says. “He was leaning on me coming into the pediatrician’s office.”
But Rory’s pediatrician and a hospital in New York City diagnosed him with a stomach virus and sent him home. However, his fever stayed high and he seemed to get worse overnight. His parents called his pediatrician again, who said her main concern was that he get fluids. “I heard my husband say to her, ‘You don’t get it—he can’t even sit up and take the fluids,’” Orlaith recalls. “That evening, he began to turn yellow and his nose was turning blue.” He was rushed back to the hospital, where he was admitted to the ICU. It turned out that Rory had gone into septic shock due to his immune system’s response to bacteria that had entered his blood through the cut in his arm. He died there on a Sunday night, less than a week after he fell in his class.
Today Rory's family runs the Rory Staunton Foundation for Sepsis Prevention—and is making history with its push for sepsis education and awareness.
Sepsis is one of the 10 most common causes of death by disease in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and it can affect people of any age. The life-threatening condition affects more than a million Americans each year, per the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and up to 30 percent of those people die from the condition.
Sepsis is a complication stemming from an infection, and it occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight infection trigger damaging inflammation throughout the body, the Mayo Clinic explains. It can happen for a wide variety of reasons, including pneumonia, bloodstream infections, a UTI, or even a scrape, Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., a board-certified infectious disease physician and affiliated scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells SELF. “Basically, any infection can turn into sepsis if it progresses to that stage,” he says.
That's one reason why the Mayo Clinic recommends cleaning all your cuts and scrapes—not just bandaging them up. That means washing your hands before touching the cut, rinsing the cut with water, rinsing around the cut with soap, applying a thin layer of antibiotic ointment to the cut, and covering it with a clean bandage.
Sepsis typically progresses over a matter of days, and it can appear to move quickly with children. Kids may be able to stay physically stable for a longer period of time than an adult, Dr. Adalja says. But when they do exhibit symptoms, they can become severe very quickly.
The initial symptoms of illness will typically be related to the infection. For example, if a person has pneumonia, they’ll likely experience shortness of breath and a cough, Dr. Adalja explains. But when the infection progresses to sepsis, a person may have a high fever that won’t break, low blood pressure, and changes in their mental status. “That can progress to shock and organ failure,” he says.
Although public awareness of sepsis has increased in recent years, Ciaran says that many people still don't know enough about the condition or its signs. It may not even be at the top of your doctor’s mind if you do come in with the symptoms since they can be vague. That’s why Orlaith says that if you suspect that you or your child has developed sepsis, it’s important to ask your doctor, “Could it be sepsis?”