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Sepsis, the silent illness threatening our kids

It was nearly six years ago when Gold Coaster Lily Douglas had open heart surgery at Mater Children’s Hospital.

At only 18 months old, Lily was fighting for her life after developing Sepsis, an illness that can rapidly lead to organ failure and death.

If it wasn’t for her Mum Anita’s quick thinking, Lily’s future could have been very different.

As a seven year old, Lily loves to wear the colour pink, but today she has opted to wear it for a different reason - to raise awareness for World Sepsis Day.

“We are your typical healthy, active family that are always in good health. We would be the type of family to say ‘that wouldn’t happen to us’, but it did,” Anita said.

Anita said it started with flu-like symptoms for Lily – fairly common for an 18 month old – but she knew something wasn’t right. It was only 10 days later she was undergoing open heart surgery.

“She didn’t have the voice to tell me what was wrong and it wasn’t until the second hospital visit that we started getting any answers,” Anita said.

“It wasn’t until we were in the grasps of losing our daughter that we knew or understood anything about the disease, so we want to generate more awareness about sepsis.”

Anita encouraged parents to listen to their ‘gut feeling’ when it came to their children’s health, something which Lily’s treating clinician Dr Christa Bell agreed with.

“Beating sepsis in children is a team effort; parents are the experts of their child and know them best,” Dr Bell said.

“Anita’s prompt recognition of Lily’s changing condition, trusting her ‘gut feeling’ by returning to the hospital and being a voice for Lilly was a major factor in Lily’s survival of this deadly disease.

“In Lily’s case, we saw her condition deteriorate after the infection invaded her heart, creating a clump of tissue and bacteria on her heart valve.”

Dr Bell said parents and the healthcare team needed to ask the question ‘could this be sepsis?’, which starts with greater education and awareness.

Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital intensive care unit staff specialist and researcher Associate Professor Dr Luregn Schlapbach said early recognition and diagnosis of sepsis was critical.

“Around one in a hundred children who present to emergency will have, or be at risk of developing sepsis,” Dr Schlapbach said.

“Identifying these children before they deteriorate is a daily challenge in hospital and if we can diagnose sepsis earlier, we can provide appropriate treatment before the infection becomes life-threatening,” he said.

World Sepsis Day is held on September 13 every year and marked by the colour pink.

Background information

Symptoms of paediatric sepsis could be subtle and change rapidly, but generally include:

  • Fever or low body temperature
  • Racing heart
  • Rapid or laboured breathing
  • Grunting sound when breathing
  • Colour changes very pale, blue or mottled skin.
  • Cool hands and feet
  • Rash which doesn’t fade under pressure
  • Recent exposure to infectious illness
  • Confusion
  • Extreme muscle, tummy (abdominal)or chest pain
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Low urine output

Sepsis was labelled a global health threat by the United Nations World Health Assembly earlier this year, and puts more than 500 children on life support in Australia and New Zealand each year.

Media contact: +61 7 3708 5376

Last updated: 13 September 2017