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As reported by The New York Times, a 12-year-old boy, Rory Staunton, died of sepsis after doctors failed to correctly diagnose him with Streptococcus pyogenes over a period of two days. Sepsis, the leading cause of death in hospitals, can present itself to look like less serious ailments such as the flu.

The challenge for physicians is to recognize the invasive infection before the resulting sepsis progresses too far. There are a number of symptoms of sepsis, but there are 8 major ones that doctors are supposed to be aware of when patients come to the emergency room. These include:

  • High fever (over 101.3)
  • Rapid breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Skin rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea/vomiting

If patients present with at least three of the eight they are given immediate attention to treat the sepsis. The quicker sepsis is caught, the greater the chance that it can be stopped from progressing.

In Rory’s case, critical information gathered by his initial visit to the family physician and subsequent visit to the emergency room was not available or deemed unimportant during his initial diagnoses. The child’s high fever, extremely low blood pressure, and rapid breathing should have been early indications of sepsis but at the time doctors believed his symptoms were a result of the flu and dehydration.

By the time Rory was taken back to the hospital the next evening, the sepsis was very apparent and very little could be done for him. He was put on a ventilator and doctors did everything they could to slow the shutdown of his organs. His heart had to be restarted twice, but Sunday afternoon the ICU doctors found that they could not restart the heart a third time.

A simple misdiagnosis of this disease is often fatal. The Staunton family believes that by sharing their story they can help save others from this same tragedy.