Before the weekend of 23rd – 26th August 2012, I had never heard of sepsis. I was living in Edinburgh with my wife, Fiona Agnew and our young 2 year old son, Robert. We were expecting our second child at the end of September and had just recently moved house. I was working for one of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms based in Edinburgh and Fiona was a GP retainer working two days a week in Bo’ness. Our life together was full and as hectic as it is for most couples with a young family and both parents working. We were both looking forward to the baby’s arrival to complete our wee family.
This was all to change in the most ghastly and shocking fashion over the course of just sixty-two hours that weekend.
I am a very lucky man to be alive. I am here and able to write this today because of Fiona’s quick action in getting me to my GP. I had gone home from work on Thursday 23rd August to crawl into my bed and sleep off what I thought was flu. It would have been my final sleep.
In fact, I had a virulent infection which led to cellulitis and sepsis, and by the time I reached A&E at Edinburgh Western, this had become septic shock. Without treatment, I would have been on my way out; I now know that by the time sepsis has reached that stage, the survival rate is only 50%. Thanks to Fiona’s intervention and quick thinking, and the prompt action of my GP and treatment by the medical staff in A&E at Edinburgh Western, my life was saved. I was and am very fortunate: at each stage where things had to happen quickly and go the right way, they did.
I was Fiona’s last patient and I owe my life to her.
Tragically, Fiona herself also became seriously ill just 24 hours later.
Fiona was taken to Forth Valley Royal hospital on the evening of Friday 24th after suddenly falling ill. She had been perfectly well up until then and had had an antenatal scan the previous day, at which point both she and the baby were well.
Upon admission, she was also diagnosed as having an infection and sepsis, which had also attacked the baby. Treatment was started immediately, but the baby had already died in utero.
In the early hours of Saturday 25th, I was discharged from the acute unit at Edinburgh Western to be with them once it became clear how grave the situation was. When I arrived, I was re-admitted as a patient in Forth Valley Royal. By this stage, Fiona’s condition was described as critical and unstable. This seemed surreal; she had visited me in hospital on Friday afternoon between 3pm and 4pm and had been fine.
However, the reality was that there was nothing that could be done for either of them. I can say that because I was there. I watched the staff do everything they could to try and save Fiona – using the latest medical techniques, machines, technology, blood transfusions (some 56 units of blood), antibiotics and three surgical procedures. They tried everything they could – and nothing worked.
Baby Isla was stillborn at 5.10 am on the Saturday morning. We had chosen not to find out whether we were having a wee boy or a wee girl. Now, I held her and named her – alone.
For the remainder of the day and into the night the medical staff worked tirelessly to save Fiona’s life. She remained critical and unstable throughout the day and had continued to bleed following the birth. Her condition gradually deteriorated; she was being ventilated and was on dialysis by this stage.
By around 9pm on the 25th, Fiona’s condition had become more unstable than previously and the doctors still couldn’t get her to stop bleeding.
The medical staff fought to stabilise her so they could attempt a third procedure to try and halt the bleeding. This was the priority, as all that was happening was each time she was given a blood transfusion, she would stabilise for a short while and then gradually become more unstable again – until the next blood transfusion.
By around midnight, she was stable enough for her to be taken to theatre. I told her that I loved her and would see her again soon and then she was wheeled away.
I had continued to be treated for my own infection in A&E throughout the day and was wheeled down to A&E for my final antibiotic treatment of the day at around quarter past midnight.
I was wheeled back upstairs to the relatives waiting room where our family had spent much of the previous 24 hours, at 2.20am. A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door and pretty much the entire medical team who had been treating Fi was lined up outside.
I knew before any of them said anything that we had lost her.
The lead consultant told me that she had arrested whilst in theatre and that they had brought her back twice, but ultimately, the sepsis and septic shock had overwhelmed her body and they had not been able to save her. He said how sorry they all were.
The whole family were all left profoundly shocked, devastated and simply bewildered.
I remember asking over and over, ‘What the hell just happened?’
My world had imploded within the space of sixty-two hours: sepsis had just killed half my family.
Before all this happened, I had known nothing about sepsis. I knew a little about septicaemia and vaguely understood it, but had never heard of sepsis at all.
Over the days following Fiona’s death, I was able to ask questions about what had happened and I learned more – much more – about sepsis.
What I found out shocked me to the core and made me realise that there was an urgent need to raise awareness about the condition and to begin tackling the appalling mortality figures – and there was no Scottish sepsis charity.
Hence, the idea for the Trust named after Fiona was formed.
I am very lucky to be alive and also incredibly lucky to have had no after effects from either septic shock or cellulitis.
I know how lucky I am: at every single stage where things had to go right, they did and I rode my luck plenty. I now intend to use my incredible good fortune to do whatever I can help others who have been affected by sepsis and ultimately to stop it.
I was very lucky to be with Fi. We had ten great years together and she was a lovely person, a great mum and a very good doctor. Fi clearly understood that the symptoms I was describing to her that Thursday afternoon were not flu and knowing her well, this is why she insisted I go to the GP immediately. Without her intervention, I would have gone to sleep and likely would not have woken up. Ultimately, I owe my life to her timely intervention, to my GP’s quick actions and to all the doctors in A&E who treated me so promptly. Again, I reiterate that I am very, very lucky to be here.
Ultimately, Fiona saved my life. The tragedy is that her own life and that of Isla could not be saved.
All of this is why FEAT has been established: we want to prevent others from suffering what our family and friends have been through.
This is why we will do all we can to Stop Sepsis Now and if you’ve read this far, I would ask you to Help Us Stop Sepsis.
Thank you for reading.