This weekend, for the second year, the UK Sepsis Trust are heading to Aintree Racecourse for the Grand National to raise vital awareness and funds. Ahead of this, we caught up with 1996 Grand National winner Mick Fitzgerald about his battle with life-threatening sepsis.
Mick’s first experience with sepsis was when he was just six years old.
I can remember cutting my hand on some wire as a child but I was young and didn’t think too much of it. I can still remember how, as time went on I started to limp. I complained to my parents that my leg was so sore – I couldn’t understand why I was limping; I hadn’t done anything to my leg. My parents took me to the GP who saw instantly that something wasn’t right and sent me immediately for tests at the hospital.”
Mick was diagnosed with sepsis and underwent surgery on his leg. The scar where they made an incision on the inside of his leg remains to this day.
Mick hadn’t heard of sepsis back then and didn’t realise as child how serious it was. It certainly didn’t prevent him from going on to become a champion jump jockey and the winner of the Grand National in 1996 on Rough Quest.
In 2008 Mick suffered a terrible spinal injury riding at the Grand National. He fell from his horse L’ami at the second fence and broke four vertebrae in his neck, two of which penetrated his spinal cord. The result of the injury was surgery where plates were inserted into his spine, which eventually became infected, affecting his lungs and oesophagus.
It wasn’t until a year following his injury that Mick began to feel that something was physically wrong with him. Recovering from my spinal injury wasn’t the hard part; it was the sepsis that was my biggest battle. I thought I was going to die.
I was going to doctor’s again and again was really struggling. I was fatigued, I had no energy and kept getting fevers. The first couple of times the doctor suggested that it was possibly a bit of depression post-retirement from race riding – he suggested I might be feeling a bit low, crashing a bit after a life of living on adrenalin when I was riding, but I knew something wasn’t right!
I knew I wasn’t depressed. I knew there was something physically wrong with me. Luckily for me the next time I returned I saw a different doctor, she sent off some bloods to get tested. In her words, my bloods were ‘off the charts’. I was sent to Oxford Hospital and sent to a specialist then, after receiving many tests they eventually diagnosed me with sepsis. I was peg fed for 5 months, and only pulled through thanks to the fact I had spent my life being so fit.
The most important lesson I have learnt from both experiences is never be afraid to “Just Ask: could it be sepsis?”. You know your own body better than anyone else so you must feel able to challenge the medical professionals if you feel worse than you have ever felt before.
I didn’t know the dangers of sepsis or the symptoms. It’s important to be aware, I hope that sharing my story helps to raise awareness. Aintree have over 100,000 racegoers over the three days here, if each one of them can leave knowing about sepsis and they share with their loved ones, well that’s how it works isn’t it, and you stop people from dying or having the experience that I did”.