Rachel Lawson’s five-week-old son Teal was his usual happy self until midday on November 15, 2019.
“Our morning started perfectly fine,” she says.
“I put Teal down for his nap then I could hear him crying on his monitor, so I rushed into the room and Teal looked really unwell.
“He was quite floppy and less alert, so I took his temperature and it was 39 degrees.”
It was then Miss Lawson and her partner rushed their boy to Perth’s Children’s Hospital.
“When we got to the hospital blood tests were taken but at first it didn’t come to my mind or the health care workers, that it could have been sepsis,” she says.
“It was late into the next day, after many test results came back, that we found out it was sepsis.”
Associate professor in acute paediatrics Fenella Gill says paediatric sepsis is an overwhelming infection that can cause death if left untreated.
She says sepsis is preventable when recognised early, but this is not always an easy task.
“Symptoms are quite broad and they can include a rash, feeling unwell, having a fever, being irritable and not feeding,” she says.
“But these are all very common in children, so it’s a challenge trying to pick when its more serious.”
Today, the Australian Sepsis Network held a nationwide virtual forum where clinicians and leaders came together to collaborate in wake of the week of observation.
Clinical nurse consultant for sepsis at Perth’s Children’s Hospital Natalie Middleton says one of the reasons she decided to join the forum was to advocate for more mandatory training for sepsis in hospitals.
“Clinicians need to complete competency-based training on that pathway and we’re one of the first in the county to have a mandatory care package for our doctors and nurses,” she says.
She says events like this are crucial for public awareness because many people still don’t know what paediatric sepsis is.
“Sharing stories and making people aware may help us pick up sepsis in the early stages better,” she says.
Miss Lawson says Teal almost contracted sepsis for a second time in January, 2022.
“A UTI started to travel from one kidney to the other, his kidneys had become enlarged and were at risk of developing sepsis again,” she says.
Miss Lawson says she experiences heightened anxiety from Teal’s ordeal.
“As a first-time parent whose child has survived a life altering and potentially deadly disease, every time I see Teal touching his mouth I get so worried,” she says.
Professor Gill says sepsis can cause physical and psychological complications like limb amputation and learning delays.
“Physical complications are more obvious but it’s the longer term psychological, and developmental dimensions that are not well understood or captured,” she says.
Miss Lawson says awareness is key to making sure other children like Teal, survive.