The Story of Sean, Up-And-Coming Musician Who Was Taken by Sepsis at Only 15 Years of Age

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In the morning of Friday January 12th 2018, we lost our amazing son Sean to sepsis. He was only 15 years old. Sean was a healthy young man with no underlying health issues. He was an up-and-coming rap artist who wrote and performed all his own material.

On Monday, January 8th, 2018, Sean came home from school and told his Mum he was not feeling too well. He was displaying flu-like symptoms, which were similar to those of a chest infection:

  • A persistent cough and a crackling sound in his chest

  • Breathlessness and shallow breathing

  • Aches in his muscles

  • High temperature

On Tuesday, he was feeling slightly better.

On Wednesday, Karen, Sean’s Mum, took him to the family doctor. She examined Sean and treated him for a chest infection, including prescribing antibiotics. The doctor stated that Sean had a high fever and a very bad chest infection. She was concerned that it might progress into pneumonia. Karen started Sean on the antibiotics immediately. However, with the severity of his cough it was impossible to keep the medication down. He was coughing up a lot of phlegm. He could not sleep at all that night.

On Thursday evening, Sean was sitting on the sofa in the living room watching TV with his mother. Karen was talking to Sean one minute and the next he was unresponsive. Karen called for me as I was upstairs. I ran down the stairs to my son, who was unresponsive and not breathing. I immediately got him off the couch and placed him on the floor. I checked his airways and began CPR. Karen called the ambulance. I continued to do CPR until the paramedics arrived. They took over and asked us to wait in the hall. They asked us whether Sean took anything, to which we replied that he just took his antibiotics, as prescribed by the doctor. They asked if he had any underlying health issues, which we declined. They told us that they were going to take Sean to the hospital, put him on a gurney, and loaded him into the ambulance. They took him to Temple Street Children’s Hospital in Dublin just minutes after midnight. We followed in our car as they wouldn’t allow anyone to ride in the ambulance with Sean.

The doctors in the Accident and Emergency Department at Temple Street Children’s Hospital went to work immediately, assessing and examining Sean. We were asked to wait in a family room and were kept updated. We were again asked about Sean’s medical history, to which we again replied that Sean was a healthy young man who was treated with antibiotics for a chest infection by the family doctor. The doctors in the hospital were baffled – they had absolutely no clue what was wrong with Sean. One doctor told us that if Sean was to survive, there would be some damage to his brain as a result of the lack of oxygen. After a while, we were told that the doctors wanted to do a MRI scan and move him up into the Intensive Care Unit. They let us know that we might want to have some family come up to the hospital, as all indications were that Sean was not going through pull through and that it might only a matter of hours until he would pass away.

He did pass away in the morning hours of Friday, January 12th, 2018, a little over a year ago to this day.

We were officially informed at Sean’s inquest that the cause of his death was sepsis. We had never heard of sepsis before this. Not once were we educated on this silent global killer which stole our son’s life. At no time was the term sepsis mentioned to Karen or me by the family doctor, the paramedics, or the doctors in the hospital. We are educating ourselves about sepsis, with great material being available from the World Sepsis Day Movement and the UK Sepsis Trust. But it does not reach far enough. We were shocked at the level of public awareness in Ireland around this global medical emergency. Early recognition, diagnosis, and the correct treatment is the key to surviving sepsis.

  • There are at least 7 deaths per day in Irish hospitals from the “silent killer” called sepsis

  • Any infection can lead to sepsis

  • Almost 15,000 cases of sepsis were diagnosed in Ireland in 2016, resulting in 2,735 deaths, but both numbers are likely underestimated

  • Sepsis kills more people in Ireland every year than breast cancer, prostate cancer, and AIDS combined

  • Sepsis does not discriminate against age, gender, or strength

Sean was six months from his 16th birthday. Our world will never be the same. Sean had a wake and a send-off that we know he would have been very proud of. Sean’s funeral received a guard of honor by his classmates and friends. All his songs were played inside and outside the church as the church was so full that many people had to pay their respects from outside. Friends of Sean have called him their role model. He was quick to help others and we are very proud to have called him our son.

Where is the awareness?

We could not find any readily available, easily accessibly, and easy to understand information in any of the doctors waiting rooms or in the hospitals in Ireland. When we asked the Health Service Executive why this is the case, we were told that there is information online. But not everyone has access to the internet or knows how to use it. We call for simple and easy to understand posters and infographics (such as the ones by World Sepsis Day) in every waiting room of every hospital and in every doctors office in Ireland.

Myself, Karen, and Sean’s sister Zoe are doing all that we can to raise awareness for sepsis. We are using social media to spread the message and have been interviewed a number of times on national radio and in national newspapers. We have hosted a sepsis awareness evening on January 12th this year, called The Red Event, coinciding with the first anniversary of Sean’s death. It was a huge success. There were around 70 guests in the attendance – 70 people who now know more about the signs and symptoms of sepsis than before the event. We have a number of other sepsis awareness events coming up and have printed out our own leaflets and banners, which are very effective.

One of the many highlights of the “Lil Red’s Legacy Sepsis Awareness Campaign” is that we were contacted by a mother whose daughter’s life was saved as a result of our campaign. Awareness saves lives. Please make sure you and your loved ones know the symptoms of sepsis!

The article above was written by Joe Hughes, Sean’s father, and is shared here with his explicit consent. The views in the article do not necessarily represent those of the Global Sepsis Alliance. They are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The whole team here at the GSA and World Sepsis Day wishes to thank Joe and his family for sharing Sean’s story and for fighting to raise awareness of sepsis.

Marvin Zick