'We'll fight to stop sepsis deaths in honour of Sean' – Parents of boy (15) who died from 'silent killer'

The family of a Dublin teenager who died from sepsis has criticised the health authorities for not raising public awareness of the “silent killer”.

Sean Hughes, known as ‘Lil Red’, was only 15 and appeared to be getting over a flu-like chest infection when he suddenly lost consciousness while watching television with his mother.

Despite the desperate efforts of his father and a team of ambulance paramedics to resuscitate him, he died in Temple Street Hospital.

Sean’s family is now calling for a nationwide awareness campaign about sepsis and its symptoms.

They are calling on the HSE and health professionals to include new protocols in their diagnosis procedures so cases can be picked up as early as possible.

Around 3,000 people a year die from sepsis in Ireland. It claims more lives than heart attacks, breast cancer or lung cancer, and can kill a healthy person within 12 hours.

Speaking from their Finglas home, Sean’s parents Karen and Joe have told how they have set about raising awareness of the killer illness, but are finding little backing or support from the HSE and Department of Health.

“We’re doing the best we can on our own, but the people who actually have a duty of care to do it are not,” Joe Hughes told the Herald.

Karen and Joe believe that a public campaign with simple symptoms graphics, similar to ones to raise awareness about stroke and meningitis, could save lives.

“There isn’t anything out there at the moment. You see TV campaigns and posters about meningitis and stroke, but there isn’t anything similar for sepsis,” said Joe.

“We’ve been told by the authorities it’s not in the 2019 budget, and it might be in the 2020 budget, but what price do you put on a life?”

Joe and Karen also highlighted the work of a team at Dublin City University who are developing a device that can diagnose sepsis from a blood test in just 15 minutes.

The SepTec device will allow doctors to rapidly differentiate between bacterial and fungal infections so that they can administer the appropriate therapy. It is currently on trial in three Dublin hospitals.

“We were invited to their lab to see it and this could be a game changer,” said Karen.

“Two of the doctors working on it are from Finglas, and they want to see this in every doctor’s surgery just like blood pressure devices so that sepsis can be detected early.

“It is vital to detect it early if it is to be treated successfully.”

Karen and Joe said Sean, their youngest child, had been sick before his collapse in January. “He hadn’t been well but he’d had colds and chest infections before and always shook them off,” said Karen.

“On the Wednesday I brought him to the doctor and he was prescribed antibiotics.


“Then on the Thursday, he was lying on the couch.

“Sean had a rattle in his chest and he said, ‘This is doing my head in’, and I thought to myself that I’d bring him back to the doctor the next day.

“Then he stopped talking. He just stopped. I couldn’t believe it. I tried to wake him. I called Joe and he tried to do CPR while we waited for the ambulance.

“It just didn’t seem real. I had been talking to him, wondering what to watch on the TV, and half an hour later we were in intensive care in Temple Street.

“We have to keep on with our campaign to raise awareness, especially as we come into flu season and Sean’s anniversary. This is Sean’s legacy. We are doing it in his honour.”

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