The mother of a four-year-old who died after contracting sepsis has opened up about the heartbreaking final moment she had with the small boy.
Sheldon Gary Farnell, from Houghton, England, died on November 26, 2018. He had spent five days with a high temperature, headaches and occasional vomiting.
His mother Katrina Keegan had rushed him to Sunderland Royal Hospital on November 23.
But a paediatric consultant discharged little Sheldon after less than 24 hours because he “did not appreciate the seriousness of the illness”, an inquest into his death has heard.
“On the last day of Sheldon’s too short life, my son begged me not to let him die … no four-year-old should know about death,” Keegan told the inquest.
“He could and should have had a fantastic life… My Sheldon will always be four-years-old,” she said.
Dr Geoffrey Lawson, a paediatric consultant at Sunderland Royal Hospital, admitted he did not know the seriousness of the infection after blood tests found group A streptococcus.
“I was available, I saw Sheldon and I did not appreciate the seriousness of the illness which will be my life long regret,” Lawson, who retired in August 2019, told the hearing at Redhills in Durham.
The consultant paediatrician said he had not sensed any ‘feeling of urgency’ from the micro-biologist through a fellow doctor after the test results were confirmed, and had not come across the infection himself throughout his career before.
Senior coroner for Sunderland Derek Winter said Sheldon’s condition appeared to improve during his stay in hospital before he was discharged on the afternoon of Sunday, November 25.
Preliminary blood tests which had suggested an infection were assumed to be contaminated because of Sheldon’s improving medical stats and that he appeared well.
He was given medication for an iron deficiency and discharged. Later the micro-biologist confirmed final blood test results as being group A streptococcus – bacteria which can lead to sepsis – after Sheldon and his family had left the hospital, and said the four-year-old should be given antibiotics amoxicillin even if he appeared well.
Dr Sirnanda, a fellow doctor at Sunderland Royal, phoned Lawson, who was at home after finishing his shift, and told him the results.
Lawson then told Sirnanda to contact the family so they could pick up an antibiotic prescription.
Two phone numbers for the family did not work and once phone number which was connected was not answered, the inquest heard.
Hours later at 9pm Lawson made the decision not to ask for the police to trace the family – but to call the GP for a different contact number the following morning.
Shortly after 2am the following morning, the family rang the hospital as Sheldon’s condition had deteriorated and he was brought in at 4am in sceptic shock. He died following a cardiac arrest at 8.42am on Monday, November 26.
During the first day of the five-day hearing, Lawson said: “I didn’t know that I didn’t know this was a serious infection and I needed to be prompted.”
He also confirmed that no clinical harm would come to a four-year-old receiving antibiotics if they weren’t needed.
Lawson added: “I have admitted this morning a part of my knowledge and experience did not appreciate that a positive blood culture was one that needed to be acted on with urgency.”
“I was wrong but I was consistent. I failed to realise that a gram positive finding in the blood culture was of huge importance.
“I was never given, through the micro-biologist’s reporting, any indication that really what we should have done was implement Sepsis 6 at 1.30pm (on Sunday 25) and at the very least given him amoxicillin under observation.”
The inquest continues.
What is sepsis?
Sepsis is a serious infection in the blood caused by bacteria. According to Health Direct it can lead to shock, organ failure and death if it’s not treated quickly.
Symptoms include fever, chills, nausea and vomiting. It can develop more quickly in younger children and babies as their immune systems are weaker. It is caused by bacteria, a virus, fungi or protozoa and spreads into the blood.
The body’s immune reaction can make things worse, not better, and it can cause a sudden, untreatable drop in blood pressure called septic shock.
Anyone can get sepsis but it is most prominent in someone with a weakened immune system.