Walter Hall was a healthy 16-year-old and looking forward to Christmas when he started to feel what he thought were flu symptoms. He was disappointed because he wouldn’t be well enough to go to a party. But what he thought could be flu was sepsis and by the time he got to the hospital he was about six hours away from losing his life.
Walter, from Lewes in East Sussex, said: “At sixteen-years-old, feeling fluey and lying in bed on the 23rd of December, 2017, I thought my Christmas would be ruined by the fact that I wasn’t well enough to go to the Christmas party. Little did I know that over the course of the next 24 hours, I would find myself dangerously close to not living long enough to see the New Year.
“I’d had winter flu before and, while this one seemed particularly draining, as I went to sleep on that night of the 23rd I felt confident I would be feeling back up to strength by Christmas Day. However, in the early hours of the morning, I awoke in an unbearable hot sweat, feeling delirious and very sick.
“I remember very little of how it felt and the details of what happened as my body became overwhelmed by illness. I suddenly shifted from feeling incredibly hot to being incredibly cold. By this point, my mum had woken up and she put me in the bath to clean me up as I had had uncontrollable diarrhoea.
“I sat in the bath, shivering. I don’t know how long I was there, but at the time it felt like forever; I was in so much pain. I couldn’t think and then I realised that my eyes were open but I couldn’t see. There was just black. I was so scared I thought I was about to die. My dad was on the phone to the hospital but a paramedic couldn’t be sent round until the morning. I didn’t sleep. We waited up until the paramedics arrived.”
The paramedics, however, failed to recognise the symptoms of sepsis with one of them concluding Walter was suffering from a very bad bout of flu and saw no need for him to be taken to hospital. Fortunately, as they were about to leave, the second paramedic decided Walter should be taken to hospital for further checks and he was blue-lighted to the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton – a decision that saved his life.
Walter said: “I suppose it must have been her instinct. Feebly, I made my way downstairs and they managed to get me into the ambulance. The journey was horrible. I had no idea where I was going, I couldn’t process any information – I was still in a state of delirium. They hooked me up to a drip and desperately pumped fluid into my body. Next followed a dizzying few hours as doctors and nurses ran around me in the emergency ward. I tried to answer their questions, they took tests, oxygen masks were put over my face and drips were put into my arms. I still didn’t know where I was.
“As I began to come round, I was told I was at the Children’s Hospital in Brighton. A doctor told me that when I arrived I was about six hours away from death and I was lucky to be alive. I was alarmed but not surprised; it certainly had felt like I was close to death. Still, I was optimistic I would be let out of hospital quickly and be back home for Christmas Day. That certainly did not happen.
“The disease had made me incredibly weak. On Christmas Day, as the nation tucked into turkey-dinners and pulled crackers, I was just able to stomach half a piece of toast. I could hardly move. The nurses wore elf costumes and one brought round a sackful of games. For the next week I stayed with my mum in the ward. After four or five days I tried walking again. It was like learning to for the first time. Eventually I was able to hobble to the bathroom.
“Over that week, one question loomed over me, over my family, over the doctors and nurses taking care of me: what was the disease? What had made me so ill? I took countless blood tests but they came back with no useful results. Eventually, they were able to tell me that I had sepsis arising from swine flu. The doctors were puzzled as I was a healthy 16-year-old, I had no underlying health conditions. I was just unlucky.
“On New Year’s eve I was let out of hospital. It was just in time for us to make it to see Hamilton in London – a much-anticipated Christmas present. I will forever be indebted to the NHS – the doctors, the nurses, the paramedics who helped save my life.”
Walter’s mum, Kathie, says she will always be grateful for the care Walter received and during the Covid-19 lockdown she decided to have her hair shaved off to raise money for Sepsis Research FEAT as the charity’s research is also helping to find answers to fight Coronavirus.
Kathie said: “It is an odd thing to shave off all one’s hair to raise money for charity. I wanted to do this back in 1989 to raise money for my art graduation show but it never happened and I’ve never let my hair get long enough again until lockdown. Now feels like the right opportunity to do something to help raise funds for research into sepsis.
“It is also important that people learn the signs of what to look out for and do not hesitate to seek help and, if necessary, get a second opinion.”
So far, Kathie has raised more £1600. Details can be found here.