What We Can Learn From A 12 Year Old’s Tragic Death

Chances are you have recently heard of the tragic death of 12-year-old Rory Staunton, who went septic after receiving a cut during basketball practice in April. Rory’s story demonstrates the alarming trend of failure to recognize the symptoms of sepsis until it is too late. While Rory’s untimely death is real tragedy, there are several things we can learn from it, and also many ways we can all help to ensure that his death was not entirely in vain.

Sepsis, also known as blood-poisoning, is the body’s response to infection or injury, which is often deadly if left untreated. An estimated 200,000 people die annually in the United States as a result of sepsis, although most sepsis resources argue that the number of deaths is far higher, as many sepsis deaths are blamed on other causes. Here is another example of something that kills more people each year than AIDS, yet few people have ever even heard of it.

We need to first understand the context of Roy’s final days to understand how we can prevent similar circumstances from happening to others. The day after receiving the cut, Rory was taken to his pediatrician’s office with a 104-degree fever, and several symptoms mimicking the flu. There were however some symptoms of sepsis there as well, including Rory’s blotchy skin. Rory was sent to the emergency room by his pediatrician, where he was released just two hours later being diagnosed with the flu.

More symptoms of sepsis manifested the following morning, when Rory’s skin began to turn blue around his nose. The extreme pain was also apparent, as his sense of touch was so sensitive that he cried out in pain. Rory’s parents again contacted his doctor, who instructed them to continue administering fluids and crackers. Rory was taken back to the emergency room later that day, where he was admitted into the intensive care unit—dying the following day.

Determined to prevent their son’s tragic and untimely death from happening to others, Cieran and Orlaith Staunton are working to pass what is now known as “Rory’s Law,” which would require hospitals to discuss the results of blood-work performed on children before they are discharged. The bill also includes several other measures aimed promoting the recognition of sepsis before it is too late.

So what can be learned from Rory’s death? For starters, the fact that everyone needs to be aware of what sepsis is, and how it affects the body. While many of the symptoms of sepsis are similar to that of other less serious illnesses, there are a number of symptoms to be on the lookout for. Sepsis Alliance, an excellent resource for information about sepsis, provides a detailed description of sepsis symptoms and other tips on suspecting sepsis. What is most important here is that it’s better to suspect sepsis as soon as possible, as early detection is essential to administer the life-saving support needed to combat this systemic illness.

Another important thing that can be learned here is that we need to demand the widespread reporting of stories like this. After hearing about Rory’s story, a Florida woman claims she was quick to suspect that her son was experiencing a similar reaction. The boy, also 12-years-old, was originally diagnosed with an ear infection, being sent home from the pediatrician and emergency room. Thanks to the persistence of this boy’s mother, as well as the proactive isolation of the quickly progressing infection, medical professionals were able to save this child’s life.

There are several examples of stories that have made news in recent months that demonstrate the importance of shining a light on many different types of preventable tragedies. In MRSAid reported the story of 24-year-old Aimee Copeland, who nearly lost her life after acquiring necrotizing fasciitis, also known as the flesh-eating bacteria. The bacteria, A. hydrophilia, entered Aimee’s body after a zip-lining accident left her with a deep gash on her leg. Three days after the accident, she was brought back to the emergency room in severe pain. While Aimee unfortunately lost several limbs while fighting the infection, she is lucky to be alive, showing the world that it is possible to overcome even the gravest of illnesses.

Another related story in the news was that of Lana Kuykendall, who also made headlines after catching the same flesh-eating bug as Aimee. In a news conference earlier this week, Lana discussed her terrifying ordeal, and how grateful she is to be going home, let alone even surviving the illness. These stories both demonstrate the importance of the early recognition of deadly infections, as well as the life-saving benefits of being proactive with our health. If you think something is wrong, chances are something probably is. Therefore, even if sepsis, necrotizing fasciitis, or other deadly illnesses are not the cause of your feeling under the weather, it’s better to be safe than sorry and rule out all possible causes.

Again, I think the take home message with all of these stories is that there is a general lack of awareness not only within our society. This is especially true with sepsis, not just with the average individual, but also within members of the medical field.  I have read quite a bit about sepsis, since my dad went into septic shock after acquiring the first of several infections while in the hospital, and a common theme in the majority of what I have learned is that many healthcare workers are just unaware of how common sepsis can be. That is not in any way their fault, as the recognition and occurrences of sepsis have apparently increased dramatically in recent years. Just keeping this story and the important information about sepsis in the back of your mind may very well aid in saving the life of you or someone you love. We all owe it to Rory to learn from his death and save the life of another innocent human being.

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