Before his 3 year old daughter passed away in 2014, Manchester, U.K., resident Peter Howarth had never heard of sepsis. He’s not alone: only 55 percent of adults know about the condition, according to the Sepsis Alliance. Now this father wants to use his daughter’s death to raise awareness and encourage parents to ask doctors about the deadly infection. In April 2014, Peter took his daughter Pippa to the emergency room. Peter and his wife, Catherine, thought she had a cold, but then she began to have trouble breathing, according to the Huffington Post. Doctors diagnosed the girl with pneumonia, but her lung infection quickly escalated. Just a few hours later, Pippa passed away. It wasn’t until after her death that doctors realized she was suffering from sepsis.
The blood infection occurs when a person is battling another illness, which causes the body to release chemicals into the bloodstream, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sometimes those chemicals can trigger inflammation and attack the body, leading to organ failure and septic shock. “What people don’t know about sepsis is the speed and how quickly it changes a life,” Peter told the Huffington Post. “Pippa went in at 7 p.m. and she died by 4 a.m. That’s how quickly it takes a life.”
When Pippa got sick, she had a fever and seemed lethargic. “It was genuinely no more sinister than that,” Peter said. “I was there at 10 p.m. and she was wired up to drips, but still demanding pink drinks and a story.”
“She was bossing me around, she was perky,” he continued. “It got to 3 a.m. and I thought she wasn’t right. She was talking, but it was nonsense and stopped making sense.” Nurses thought she was fine, but just 30 minutes later she passed away while Peter held her hand.
The father said his family didn’t get a chance to fight, that his daughter was “gone before we could try.” Now he’s stressing how critical it is that parents and caregivers know the warning signs. The condition is most likely to infect children and seniors. More than 42,000 kids develop the condition every year. And it’s the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals.
While sepsis is aggressive, it can be prevented. “Health workers need to be adequately trained and skilled to be able to recognize the signs of sepsis and to treat the condition effectively,” the World Health Organization (WHO) states. Guardians should look for signs including fever, hypothermia, pale skin, lethargy, cold skin, fast breathing or difficulty breathing, fast heartbeat, chills, slurred speech, confusion, or convulsions. If a loved one experiences these problems, you should ask doctors if sepsis could be to blame.
“If someone had asked—just maybe, we’d still have her,” Peter said. “If by doing any type of awareness raising I can help one person ask the question and save one life, that’s one family that doesn’t have to go through the hell we’ve had to go through.” You can make a donation to Child Bereavement U.K. in honor of Pippa at JustGiving, and learn more about sepsis in children at the Sepsis Alliance.