As a parent, it may be tough to identify when a child is simply whining or instead very ill. A young child may not have the right words to convey where it hurts. An older child's symptoms may mimic something benign, but could actually be very serious.
When a 12-year-old boy died five years ago, it was because the symptoms of sepsis mirrored those of a stomach bug. A resulting New York program has sought to speed identification and treatment of sepsis. The advocacy of the boy's parents has meant that 4,727 fewer people have died from this condition across our state.
From cut and infection to organ failure
The story started out in what must have seemed a routine week. While practicing basketball, the 12 year old dived for a ball and cut his arm. But the next day, he was feverish, vomiting and complaining of pain in his leg. He got worse over the course of the day and that evening his parents took him to the emergency room. They were sent home after a blood test with a diagnosis of a stomach bug.
What happened next is any parent's nightmare. They returned to the hospital the following day and only then did medical staff identify sepsis as his organs were failing.
Reviewing the blood results closer showed an extraordinary level of white blood cells. There had been a sign his immune system was escalating the fight. The sepsis diagnosis may have been overlooked, because a stomach bug was more common.
What is sepsis and why is it hard to diagnose?
Sepsis is when the immune system overreacts while fighting an infection. Most commonly it affects people over the age of 65. In the United States, it is one of the leading causes of patient deaths in hospitals.
Identified early and treatment can reduce the chance of dying by 21 percent. But early signs frequently mimic other illnesses. These symptoms include fever, confusion and rapid heartbeat. This means that often patients have been sick for hours or days before seeking or receiving treatment.
New York State response
The boy's parents worked to create a program in New York that would promote early recognition and treatment. Similar to patient education about the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, education around early identification is having an impact. When a nurse or doctor suspects sepsis, immediate treatment can be started and it has been.
The percentage of cases where early management is initiated within three to six hours has been rising each quarter since the initiative went into effect in 2014.
Weisfuse & Weisfuse, LLP, represents victims and their families, who have suffered severe injury or death from sepsis due to medical malpractice. You can call for a free consultation at 212-983-3000 with one of our attorneys.