Families share sepsis stories to raise awareness of ‘silent killer’

16 March 2021

The more than 500 Queensland families impacted by sepsis every year will receive extra support during their child’s hospital journey, thanks to an Australian-first video series developed by Children’s Health Queensland.

The eight-part series, ‘Journeying through Sepsis’, guides families through each stage of a child’s healthcare journey from initial diagnosis, through intensive care, into rehabilitation and support after discharge.

The videos share insights from four Queensland families, who bravely and honestly shared their stories to help support other parents/carers of newly diagnosed children.

The series is part of the ‘Sepsis in children’ website launched today by Children’s Health Queensland and the Queensland Paediatric Sepsis project to raise awareness, improve recognition and management of the condition across the state.

Queensland Children’s Hospital intensive care specialist, Associate Professor Paula Lister said on average three children were admitted to intensive care units across the state due to sepsis each week.

“While it can affect anyone, children and babies are most at risk due to their developing immune systems,” she said. “We understand that having a child in hospital with sepsis can be incredibly challenging for families. The new video series will help to educate and support these families by explaining sepsis and what it does to the body and how their child may be affected.

“While each family’s experience is unique, they share the struggle of a child’s sudden admission to hospital with sepsis and the unexpected and normal fear and grief that comes with that” she said.

Despite the high prevalence of sepsis, A/Prof Lister said sepsis was still relatively unknown among families with 41 per cent of Australians not aware of the condition.

“Sepsis can be challenging for families to identify and for clinicians to diagnose as symptoms can present initially as a common flu-like illness,” she said.

“However, it’s known as the ‘silent killer’ because it can progress rapidly into significant infection and organ failure. The risk of death rises dramatically with every hour that treatment is delayed.”

Brisbane family of five, the Wilkinsons, are one of the families who share their experience and advice for the videos. In 2017 their then four-year-old daughter Mia developed sepsis and was hospitalised at the Queensland Children’s Hospital.

“I’d never heard about sepsis before Mia fell ill,” mother Amy Wilkinson said. “It escalated extremely quickly. Within a few hours of taking her to hospital thinking she had flu or gastro, she was on life support in intensive care. It just happened so fast.”

After almost a week in intensive care, the pre-schooler spent another nine weeks in the Queensland Children’s Hospital after her arms and legs had to be amputated below the elbow and knee joints.

Amy admits she was worried about her daughter’s future abilities when she started rehabilitation but said Mia, now eight, had adapted wonderfully to life with her prostheses.

“Sharing Mia’s story and our experience as a family was important to help raise awareness of sepsis and support other families going through a similar journey. We also wanted show other parents that a child can still lead a very fulfilling and happy life.”

Visit the Children’s Health Queensland Sepsis in children website.

Watch the ‘Journeying through sepsis’ video series.

ENDS

Media contact: t: +61 7 3068 5111 e: chqnews@health.qld.gov.au

About sepsis

Sepsis is a life-threatening illness that occurs when the body’s response to infection damages its own organs and tissues.

It is a leading cause of preventable death and disability in children, yet it is a relatively unknown condition with fewer than one in four Australians able to name a symptom.

Sepsis claims the lives of 5,000 people in Australia every year. Globally, more than 40 per cent of all cases occur in children under five.

Any type of infection can lead to sepsis, even something that seems insignificant like a scratch from a cat, or a scrape on the knee after falling from a bike.