My beautiful daughter died on 22/4/2011 (Good Friday) just over 3 weeks after giving birth to her first baby. She had fought sepsis for 3 weeks and ultimately died of ‘catastrophic brain damage’. She was 27 years old. This is her story.
Hayley is my younger daughter, one of 3 siblings. She has a brother younger than her and an older sister. Having always wanted to be a mother Hayley had been devastated in 2010 to lose her first baby. She coped with her loss and later in 2010 became pregnant again. Her baby was due on 27th March 2011 and she went into labour on the actual day. Unfortunately her labour was slow and long and eventually, on the morning of 27th March was taken to theatre for an emergency Caesarian Section. Initially all seemed well, but the following day she was started on antibiotics as she was showing signs of an infection. She was discharged on antibiotics the next day.
After seeming well at home, Hayley developed signs of cellulitis around her wound on day 9. She was in severe pain and we sent for the GP. She visited and changed Hayley’s antibiotics. As her pain worsened through the afternoon, I rang the GP again at 4pm and was advised to send for an ambulance. Hayley arrived at the local A&E department around 5pm and following the initial assessment a diagnosis was made of ‘severe sepsis’.
We weren’t told of this and were advised Hayley needed IV antibiotics. She was transferred to the maternity ward, with her baby and some 4 hours after admission her antibiotics were finally started. I left Hayley that night and returned the next morning to find her seriously ill. The redness around her wound had now spread to cover a massive area of her body and was travelling down her legs. She was in severe pain and had started her baby on bottle feeds as she could no longer hold him. The morning progressed and a large number of medical staff came and went, until eventually, late in the afternoon an emergency CT scan was performed, some 6 hours after it was initially requested. Hayley had been taken to the delivery suite to be cared for on a one to one basis by this time.
More doctors came and went and Hayley had episodes of confusion, mixed with more alert periods. We were told she may need the wound draining, but her condition was unstable and that she needed to be stabilised as she would have to transfer to a different hospital for this.
Hayley was not responding to the antibiotics as hoped and changes were made throughout the day. At 10pm she was told she needed to send her baby home as she was to be taken to the second hospital. I had remained with her throughout and her partner came to collect the baby at 11pm. She kissed him goodbye and was never to see him again. He was 10 days old and the centre of her world.
We transferred to a surgical triage unit where it became clear Hayley was becoming increasingly unwell. They suspected necrotising fasciitis. She was confused, in pain and frightened. Blood and plasma transfusions were given and after a long night sitting by her bed she went to theatre at 9am. 39 hours after admission. The plan was to take her to theatre and open the wound, cut away any dead tissue and clean out the pus.
I went with her into the theatre as she was frightened and didn’t want me to leave her. Her father waited outside and I commented to him that as I was leaving her breathing seemed strange, shallow and fluttery.
We went to wait in the hospital canteen and some 4 hours later, still waiting, received a call to say she had collapsed in the theatre and would be going to ICU.
We raced down the corridor in a state of panic and arrived there before her. She finally came to ICU around 5pm, on a ventilator. They had taken an hour to resuscitate her in theatre and she was seriously unwell. For the first time since her admission we were told she had sepsis and were warned the next 3 days were critical.
The following day Hayley regained consciousness and was taken off the ventilator. She was so relieved that she was awake and had no idea how much time had passed. As the day progressed she found it increasingly difficult to breath and by 6pm had to be put back onto the ventilator as she was unable to maintain her oxygen level and was very distressed as she struggled to breath. She would never wake again.
On the 3rd post op day we were told that despite no further problems from the wound she had developed ‘Respiratory distress syndrome’ as a result of the Sepsis. We were told ‘she may have hours to live, days to live, or she may recover’. They had no treatment to offer other than ventilation and see how she responds. We were frantic with worry and spent the next 2 days watching the oxygen levels on her monitor and trying to understand what was happening to us.
Three further days on the ventilator passed and Hayley was worse. We were offered the lifeline of a transfer to another hospital for possible ECMO treatment. This is a kind of ‘lung bypass’ that provides oxygen to the blood via a machine and let the lungs rest until they recover. The transfer was made and initially Hayley improved, so ECMO wasn’t needed immediately. She continued on the ventilator for another week, until once again she deteriorated. The ECMO began, but after 2 days we were called to the ward at 6am and told she had suffered ‘catastrophic brain damage’. She had no hope of survival and died the following day, Good Friday.
We were left devastated and shocked as we had no idea how a young healthy woman could go from having a baby to dying in such circumstances. We had no idea of the effects of Sepsis and its devastating death rate.
We do know now, after more than 4 years of fighting for the truth, that had Hayley been treated sooner, she would, ‘on the balance of probability’, have survived. An initial delay in starting the IV antibiotics, was followed by a delay in having an ‘urgent’ scan, a delay in responding to the results of the scan and a massive delay in draining the pus from her wound. By the time Hayley had her wound drained she was critically ill and an endless series of events led to her death.
Hayley deserved better. She deserved to have her baby and live to see him grow up. She didn’t die from an incurable disease, she died as a result of staff not recognising the urgency with which they needed to act. Sadly Sepsis continues to claim lives that could be saved.