Freddie's Story

Just a few days before he was due to go on a school trip to France, 15-year-old Freddie McCarthy developed life-threatening sepsis from a spot on his hand.

His nurse mum Kerry got him to hospital in time – but is now sharing her son’s story to help raise awareness of how quickly things can take a turn for the worse…

Freddie woke up as normal on Tuesday 18th July, with a little bit of pain in his left hand. His mum saw a spot but initially thought nothing of it. She chalked it up to him being tired and run down, as the end of the school term approached. He was due to go away that Friday to France with school, so Kerry was keen for him to soldier through. She said: “Most parents are in the medical profession are generally like ‘You’ll be fine’, and that was me that morning. I was like ‘Have some paracetamol, let’s get you to school, you’ll be fine’. I took him to school to save him cycling – I thought I was doing a good thing!”

His mum checked in with him at around 11am to make sure he was OK, and he said he was distracted by the pain but keen to play football at lunch. By 12pm, the school rang and asked his mum if he could have some extra painkillers. Kerry said: “Being a nurse, I had a feeling he had an infection coming from that little spot.”

The school rang just half an hour later to say that Freddie was now feeling really poorly. She finished her shift, arranged for a friend to collect him, and about two hours later arrived home and learned Freddie had vomited. Kerry said:

“He was in bed, he was sweating, he was very grey and his hand was upset.”

“Huge. I knew if his hand hadn’t swollen, I would have assumed it’s a tummy bug because there were no other symptoms.”

Thankfully, Kerry recognised that he was septic and took him in to her place of work – A&E in Taunton – straight away. He was put on antibiotics, and taken for his first washout that evening.

The next morning, though, he wasn’t any better and doctors were concerned about some tenderness in his left armpit – so sent him for an MRI scan. Although her nursing background had enabled her to get Freddie to hospital in time, it was scary for Kerry being so aware of what was going on. She said: “It was a curse because I think I knew a little bit too much; when they sent him for the scan on the Wednesday morning that worried me because I knew they were thinking it had spread, and all these situations were going through my mind, with worse case scenarios.”

Over the course of the next few days, Freddie had another washout and was diagnosed with osteomyelitis. He was in hospital for eight days in total, so missed the school trip. His mum is hyper aware that the timing of Freddie’s illness was very fortunate. She said:

“If he’d got on the coach three days later to go to a school trip in France, it could easily have been mistaken for travel sickness or a tummy bug.”

Three days after discharge, Freddie was clinically well, and his bloods were fine, but his dressing had been oozing so Kerry took him back in for another washout. He had a vacuum pump attached to his hand to remove the pus. He had his fourth and final operation to clean the infected site the following Tuesday, remaining in hospital on IV antibiotics until the Thursday.

Since coming home towards the end of July, Freddie has had lots of physio and lots of outpatient appointments, but is now back to his normal self – and is aspiring to become a physio, having recently undertaken work experience in the same hospital where he was treated for sepsis. Kerry said: “The palm of his hand is looking great. He’s got scarring on the back of his hand, but he said to me, ‘I want to show it off’, he’s been he’s really brave. He’s a goalkeeper for his local football team as well, so he can’t wait to get back out and play as well.”

Freddie and Kerry haven’t felt the need to access any mental health support following his ordeal, but have spoken openly about what happened as a family. Kerry said: “We’re very much a family that talks. We talk about everything in this house.”

Now a few months following Freddie’s experience, Kerry encourages other parents who may be in a similar position to her to trust their gust instincts, and don’t shy away from asking for a professional opinion – even if that means going into A&E with a poorly child. She said:

“Although parents feel that they’re wasting NHS time, I think at least speak to 111 or your local surgery to get advice.”
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