Charlie was the spirit of life, with never ending smiles and giggles and he was the embodiment of absolute joy and happiness in our lives.
The week of his second birthday, Charlie came down with a cold. Initially thinking that it was a simple virus that would only last a few days, our main concern was whether he would be well enough to still be able to have other children over to our house for a birthday party that coming weekend, as well as finalising presents and a birthday cake.
Tragically, the initial fever and cough he had had for over three days, rapidly developed into pneumonia which progressed very quickly to septicaemia and Charlie passed away within less than 48 hours.
Charlie had successfully endured a number of bouts of illness previously, from basic coughs and colds to the odd tummy upset, all without anything remotely serious developing. He was a very robust and healthy little boy. This is why when he developed a fever and a cough, we visited the GP twice within a couple of days to have him checked, with the GP informing us that they believed the cough was viral and would pass within a few days.
The difference in Charlie’s presentation over the final 48 hours (days four and five into the illness), was that his heart seemed to be racing more, his breathing more rapid and his temperature increasing to over 39 degrees and it not responding as well to Panadol as it had previously, earlier in the week. He was also much more lethargic, which we attributed again to lack of sleep and the virus.
We took Charlie to the local children’s hospital, where he was assessed to have pneumonia via chest X-ray, with two forms of antibiotics being prescribed orally. Unfortunately as Charlie had a more rare form of bacterial infection (one which normally does not affect healthy children) the antibiotics did not have any impact. After around 12 hours in the hospital, within the early hours of the morning, Charlie became unresponsive, was intubated and was admitted to the paediatric intensive care unit.
The following two hours were a living nightmare, where two hours after arriving to the PICU, the specialists began performing CPR and Charlie passed away one day before his second birthday, ultimately from sepsis.
I will never forget the moment, although sometimes it does seem like a blur of confused events, where we first realised that Charlie was unresponsive. I asked one doctor what was happening; they responded by stating “we are doing everything we can”. I knew then that this was so much more than the flu and I remember feeling that I could barely move my feet. I had been awake for 48 hours straight and was simply scrambling to make sense of what I was seeing.
I phoned my family prior to going to the PICU, telling them that they had to come to the hospital immediately, as they were a seven hour drive away. At the time they genuinely thought I was overreacting, as Charlie was such a strong, healthy child. But I knew in the pit of my stomach that things were not looking good, so I pushed for them to not bother packing, but to just to jump in the car and leave.
There are images that morning of Charlie, surrounded by medical staff that are forever more etched in our minds. As parents we had never felt so completely and utterly powerless. We were racking our brains trying to understand what was making him so ill, was it asthma, was it a collapsed lung, we had absolutely no idea what was going on.
During Charlie’s final hours, my husband and I sat petrified in the waiting room, next to the PICU and just after 8 a.m. a doctor entered the room and informed us that they had started CPR. We ran to his side and stood by and watched the PICU staff try desperately to bring our little boy back to life. Charlie remained unresponsive. Someone pushed a chair towards me so that I could sit down and my husband and I were told that there was nothing more they could do, that he was gone.
The feeling from that moment on is hard to describe, as it really is simply shock and numbness, which I believe your body initiates, so that you can simply just sustain basic human function, such as breathing. No-one can possibly comprehend what it is like to lose a child unless, tragically, they have been through it themselves. The raw pain is unimaginable and simply indescribable as to how much your heart, mind and body aches.
Meeting a few other families that have had similar tragic circumstances and lost children rapidly through sepsis, however, has made the grief journey easier to bear and less lonely at the same time, as there is such little awareness regarding the condition.
Through the tremendous support of family and friends we have been able to rebuild our lives and try to focus on a more positive future. Charlie now has a little brother – Harry , and each day we try to live a life that would hopefully make them proud of us as parents.
Prior to Charlie’s illness, we had never heard of sepsis. We had no concept of what it was and nor did our friends or family. We hope to support organisations such as the Sepsis network to combat the lack of awareness within the community, so that in the future every parent has the opportunity to be little bit more aware and informed about Sepsis.