In 2014, 3-year-old Pippa seemed a little under the weather for a few days, but her parents thought it was nothing major. Just a common cold. Then one night, her breathing wasn’t normal. Her parents rushed the little girl to the hospital. Hours later, she died from sepsis. Pippa’s father Peter Howarth is now working to spread awareness about sepsis to educate other parents.
“What people don’t know about sepsis is the speed and how quickly it changes a life,” Howarth told Huffington Post UK.
Even the doctors didn’t see it coming in Pippa’s case. When she arrived at the hospital, the toddler was diagnosed with pneumonia.
“Pippa went in at 7 p.m. and she died by 4 a.m. That’s how quickly it takes a life,” her dad told the publication.
What Is Sepsis?
Sepsis is the immune system’s overwhelming response to an infection. It can also be known as blood poisoning. It damages the body by impairing blood flow to organs. This is how it attacks the body, according to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences:
“The body releases immune chemicals into the blood to combat the infection. Those chemicals trigger widespread inflammation, which leads to blood clots and leaky blood vessels. As a result, blood flow is impaired, and that deprives organs of nutrients and oxygen and leads to organ damage.”
Sepsis presents itself in three stages: sepsis, severe sepsis and septic shock. Ideally, it should be treated in its early stage before any organ damage occurs.
According to the Mayo Clinic, before you can be diagnosed with sepsis, you must exhibit two of the following symptoms:
- Body temperature above 101 F or below 96.8 F
- Heart rate higher than 90 beats a minute
- Respiratory rate higher than 20 breaths a minute
Any one of the following symptoms indicates it’s moved into severe sepsis:
- Significantly decreased urine output
- Abrupt change in mental status
- Decrease in platelet count
- Difficulty breathing
- Abnormal heart pumping function
- Abdominal pain
It’s important to note that you must have had an infection before developing sepsis. Therefore sepsis is most common for people who have been recently or currently hospitalized. Any of the following infections can lead to sepsis:
- Abdominal infection
- Kidney infection
- Bloodstream infection (bacteremia)
How Common Is Sepsis?
Those with weakened immune systems are the most likely to develop sepsis. This includes the very young, the elderly and anyone with a weakened immune system due to cancer treatment, organ transplant or HIV.
According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, severe sepsis occurs in more than 1 million Americans every year. And 15 to 30 percent of those people pass away because of it.
Once sepsis is diagnosed, it’s important to treat it quickly. According to a 2006 study, the risk of death increases by 7.6 percent with every hour it goes untreated. A combination of antibiotics and IV fluids can be used to treat sepsis, according to Sepsis Alliance.
What Can You Do If You Notice Your Child Exhibiting Symptoms?
Really, the only thing you can do to fight sepsis is to be aware that it exists, so that if you notice any of the symptoms and have recently been in a hospital environment or developed an infection, you’ll know to ask about it.
According to Howarth, Pippa’s doctors at the hospital in Manchester, where the family lives, didn’t diagnose sepsis right away.
“I was there at 10 p.m. and she was wired up to drips, but still demanding pink drinks and a story,” Howarth said.
“She was bossing me around, she was perky. It got to 3 a.m. and I thought she wasn’t right. She was talking, but it was nonsense and stopped making sense. I got the nurse to come in. They checked on her and there was no mention of sepsis, then off they went. I sat with her half an hour after this point in the room, just holding her hand. I was holding her hand when she stopped breathing. That was it.”
It wasn’t until after Pippa died that the doctors realized it was due to septic shock.
“Sepsis — I didn’t hear that word until she had died,” Howarth told the Huffington Post UK. “We didn’t get a chance to fight, she was gone before we could try. We didn’t have a chance, she didn’t have a chance. It was a flick of a switch and she was gone.”
So now, he’s urging parents to ask the question that could save their child’s life: “Could it be sepsis?”
“It may not have changed the outcome with us,” Howarth told the publication. “We might have been unlucky, but maybe — if someone had asked — just maybe, we’d still have her.”
Meanwhile, he urges that you “tell your child you love them every day and cuddle your children while you still can.”
Howarth has set up a donation page through JustGiving where you can donate to an organization called Child Bereavement UK in honor of Pippa and others who passed away as a result of sepsis.
Pippa’s dad initially set it up to raise funds in advance of the London Marathon, which he and a friend ran in Pippa’s memory.
On the JustGiving page, he wrote this:
“Pippa was a little ray of sunshine and a bundle of mischief. At just three years old she had so much love of life, and brought sunshine and sparkle into the lives of me, my wife Catherine and her big brother Aubrey. Only 10 days after becoming the most excited girl in the world with the arrival of her little brother Elliott, Pippa was taken away from us all overnight on 10th April 2014. She developed sepsis after suffering pneumonia, and passed away just hours after being admitted to hospital. Her loss has devastated us all, and many of those who knew her.
It is hard to remember Pippa without overwhelming sorrow, but along with my close friend Dave Furlong we decided that in her memory we would take on a challenge usually reserved for men of younger age and/or better fitness levels. So as the London Marathon falls almost exactly on the anniversary of Pippa’s passing we felt that it would be an appropriate challenge, and Child Bereavement UK an appropriate charity. ”
Though the marathon has passed, you can still make a donation on the page or you can donate to a fund like the Sepsis Alliance here in the United States. Our deepest condolences to this family for their tragic loss.
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