WHEN baby Oliver appeared under the weather, his parents thought it was nothing but a common cold.
Never in their worst nightmares did they imagine their five-week-old baby would be fighting for his life in hospital just hours later.
Cy and Christina Gregory had been told by a doctor at a walk-in clinic that Oliver was likely just congested, and they were sent home with a prescription for a nasal spray.
So when Oliver became restless in the middle of the night, doting dad Cy tried not to panic.
Cy, 30, told The Sun: “His arms were very floppy, which was alarming, but at the time I thought ‘don't panic, he's feeling run down’.
“I was worried, but told myself not to freak out and just use the nasal spray as I’d been told to.
“From 1am he was just moaning in his bedside cot. I got up with him and he clung to my chest and wouldn't move away. He was buried into my chest.
“I took him downstairs and used the nasal spray again. But every time I put him in his cot or try to put him down, he'd cry.”
Just a few hours later, Oliver was on his way to hospital in an ambulance, where it would be discovered he was in the grips of sepsis.
Sepsis is often considered a “silent killer”. It comes on rapidly and can be missed, while becoming deadlier with every hour that passes
Even medics fail to spot it, including in Oliver’s case.
Cy himself was diagnosed with PTSD this year after dealing with intense feelings of guilt at not spotting the signs in his baby earlier.
Oliver managed to pull through and is now a healthy two-year-old.
But Cy struggled to overcome the memories of his tiny baby battling a life-threatening condition, with dozens of tubes and monitors attached to his body.
Even for sepsis survivors and their families, the illness can have a long-lasting impact both physically and mentally.
Warning other parents on World Sepsis Day (September 13), Cy said: “Know the symptoms.
“Don't be frightened to ask if it could be sepsis or push for action if you think it might be.”
Sepsis Research FEAT says there are 25,000 cases of childhood sepsis every year in the UK. Around 220,000 adults also get it.
The charity describes sepsis as “the number one cause” of preventable death worldwide, but the “least well recognised” condition.
It’s symptoms can overlap with many other common conditions and are vague. They are hardest to spot in babies and the elderly.
Recalling the day before Oliver was sent to hospital, Cy, of Marston Moretaine in Bedfordshire, said his son was unresponsive.
“He wasn't himself," Cy said. "He was very lethargic and just down in the dumps. I couldn't really get a response from him.
“He sounded like he was congested and very chesty. He was also warm.”
After Cy stayed up with Oliver through the night, Christina noticed Oliver’s breathing had become laboured as his chest was rising and falling heavily.
After talking to NHS 111, an ambulance was sent to the family’s home in Marston Moretaine in Bedfordshire.
Even paramedics didn’t consider sepsis and offered Cy and Christina the option of whether to go to hospital or not.
Luckily they chose to, as it was then discovered Oliver was in the grips of sepsis by a male nurse called Ally.
Cy said: “Ally spotted the signs and realised it was the beginning of sepsis right away, but didn’t disclose that and just hooked Oliver up to antibiotics.”
It wasn’t until a few days later that doctors told Cy and Christina that Oliver initially had meningococcal disease, which can first appear as a flu-like illness.
It developed quickly into sepsis – an overreaction of the immune system to an infection that causes the body to start attacking itself, leading to organ failure.
Cy said: “My wife looked at me and started crying straight away and said we could have lost him.
“My mouth just fell open. I couldn't process what we'd just been told, it seemed too extreme.
“I knew how time-critical sepsis was. My immediate thought was all those hours he was up with me.”
Oliver had been put on the strongest antibiotics and luckily, the sepsis had been caught relatively early.
The symptoms of sepsis in adults and children
The five key symptoms of sepsis in adults and children:
- High or low temperature
- Uncontrolled shivering
- Confusion/acting confused or loss of consciousness
- Passing little urine
- Blotchy or cold arms and legs
The are some additional symptoms seen in children (that may also be seen in adults):
- A fast heartbeat
- A rash – a reddish discolouration or a cluster of tiny blood spots that look like pinpricks in the skin. If untreated, these dark dots gradually get bigger and begin to look like fresh bruises
- Cold, pale or clammy skin
- Nausea and vomiting
- Very lethargic/sleepy or difficult to wake
- Not responding how they usually do or not interested
- Shortness of breath or breathing very fast – you may notice grunting noises or their stomach sucking under their ribcage
- Fit or convulsion
- Not passing urine or having a wet nappy for 12 hours
On Oliver’s fifth day at Bedford hospital, doctors needed to do a lumbar puncture to check he was not at risk of developing meningitis.
The invasive procedure involves inserting a thin needle into the lower spine while it is in a rounded shape. Spinal fluid is taken out and tested for bacteria.
Cy, who insisted on staying in the room despite doctors pleas for him to leave, ended up helping the nurses hold Oliver in the correct position.
Cy said: “I had one hand on his nappy, and the other on the back of his head, holding him still.
“He was screaming, but I was told not to move. He was bright red and I remember thinking how sore this throat would be from screaming.
“I felt I was causing the discomfort and worried he would be scared of me. That memory is still an upsetting one, it always will be.”
Long road to recovery
Oliver was given the all-clear and discharged a week after his arrival, after doctors found no evidence of bacteria in his spinal fluid.
The family were relieved to get him home, where Oliver thankfully made a full recovery.
But Cy was left shaken by the experience he believed he could have prevented.
He said: “I didn’t do night feeds again. I felt better if my wife was the last person to see him before he went to sleep, I only trusted her judgement.
“As he got older, night time got worse for me.
“If he moaned in the night I’d sight bolt upright, with the feeling of a panic attack. I was scared of what I would find.
“When he got his own bedroom, I wanted to sleep on the floor by his door. His ability to communicate (speak) appeared to make my fear worse.
“Then this year, I started having flashbacks of the lumbar puncture."
Cy eventually saw a therapist in June 2021, two years after Oliver became sick, and was given a diagnosis of PTSD due to the lumbar puncture.
Cy, who no longer has the flashbacks, said: “I hadn’t dealt with it. I stupidly told myself it was punishment for missing the signs.
“I know now that is a ridiculous thought process, thanks to therapy.
“Only one nurse noticed the signs. None of the doctors were incompetent, sepsis is just so easily missed.”
Cy is now working with Sepsis Research FEAT to help raise awareness of the condition, which tragically takes the lives of 50,000 people a year in the UK.
He is raising money for the charity by doing Tough Mudder on September 18, for which you can donate here.
And he is overjoyed that he and Christina are expecting another baby in February 2022.
At their 12-week scan, Cy was able to find Ally – the nurse that spotted sepsis in Oliver – and personally thank him for “saving his son’s life”.
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