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Written on 6th September 2016 by Julie Marsh

Sepsis accounts for 44,000 death annually in the UK. Caught early, the outlook is good for the vast majority of patients, which is why it is crucial not to incur any delay in seeking medical attention.

Infection can give rise to sepsis, especially when there is an infection in a wound site. Sepsis can lead to shock, which then leads to multiple organ failure and can lead to death especially if it is not recognised early and treated promptly.

During the summer of 2015, Ruben Harvey-Smith suffered a burn to his chest, when an iron was knocked over. Ruben’s mum rushed him to Accident and Emergency at Ipswich Hospital, where he was given pain killers and the burn was dressed.

Ruben’s mum Louise was told there was a possibility that a third degree burn could affect the deeper tissue, and normally Ruben would have been referred to Chelmsford Specialist Burns Unit. Unfortunately it was closed because of outbreak of an infection.

Louise was therefore advised to take Ruben to the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, 80 miles away, the following morning. She did so, Ruben’s burn was redressed and he was advised to go back to Chelmsford four days later.

Louise was given a list of symptoms to look out for that could indicate that Ruben might have sepsis, or blood poisoning.

The following morning, Louise was worried as Ruben was cold and shivering and appeared quite unwell. He developed a rash, and Louise was concerned that he was drowsy. She immediately phoned the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, and doctors were concerned that an infection had set in. She was advised to take him immediately to Ipswich A&E.

On the way to the Hospital, Ruben was sick.

Once Louise arrived at the Hospital the doctors monitored Ruben’s temperature, and gave him Calpol. They diagnosed tonsillitis. Ruben’s heart rate even rose at one point to 190 beats per minutes, but the doctors still failed to recognise the onset of sepsis.

Ruben was then discharged home.

Louise was still worried when she arrived home with Ruben, and so contacted the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital again. The doctors were concerned that Ruben was showing signs of toxic shock syndrome, and she was advised to immediately take him back to Ipswich Hospital. On arrival, Ruben was taken into the resuscitation unit.

Ruben was transferred by ambulance to St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, and Ruben was given IV antibiotics. Although he began to respond to the treatment, his limbs were swollen and discoloured, and the sepsis that was set in after the burn, had caused the blood supply to his legs to reduce.

Doctors told Louise that they would need to amputate both of Ruben’s legs, and some of his fingers, in order to save his life.

A year later, Ruben has learned to walk on prosthetic legs, and has found a way to manage every day tasks such as dressing himself, although these are difficult.

Louise has pursued a claim on Ruben’s behalf and the Ipswich Hospital Trust has admitted full liability for the shortcomings in the care that Ruben received.

Now Ruben and his family need to focus on helping Ruben adapt, and achieve all the care, prosthesis and equipment that he will need for the remainder of his life.

Julie Marsh, an expert amputation negligence claims lawyer, commented on the case:

“It is sad to read about this case involving Ruben, and there are clear examples here that Ruben was suffering with symptoms clearly indicative of sepsis which should have been recognised by his treating doctors. There has been a lot in the press recently regarding sepsis, and the UK Sepsis Trust are working with other charities to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of sepsis. You can read more about this here and how to recognise the symptoms of sepsis”.