Baby girl’s ‘grunting cough’ was a sign of deadly sepsis that kills in minutes, mum warns

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A MUM was terrified to learn her baby girl’s “grunting” cough was actually a sign of a deadly infection that can kill in minutes.

Little Clara Wood started making the strange noises while struggling to breathe.

Clara Wood was rushed to hospital after her mum noticed she was making a strange 'grunting' cough
Clara Wood was rushed to hospital after her mum noticed she was making a strange ‘grunting’ cough
Mercury Press

Mum Louise said she called NHS 111 and wasn’t too worried at first.

But within three minutes of arriving at the family home in West Kirby, Merseyside, Clara had been rushed to hospital.

Doctors were waiting for the 11-month-old, and whisked her straight into resus.

They told mum-of-two, Louise her little girl was battling pneumonia, as well as sepsis – warning it can turn fatal very quickly.

Louise is now sharing their traumatic ordeal in the hope it will raise awareness of the killer bug, and stop other families going through what they did.

“She had been napping for a really long time, and she’d been quiet and subdued the day before,” Louise said.

“I just put it all down to a cold she’d had.”

But when she noticed the strange “grunting” noise, Louise called NHS 111 to check.

The 11-month-old was napping lots and didn't seem right, but mum Louise put it down to a cold
The 11-month-old was napping lots and didn’t seem right, but mum Louise put it down to a cold
Mercury Press

“Her eyes were half open and she was making this weird coughing sound, the paramedics later described it as ‘grunting’,” she said.

“They asked me a series of questions and then they said, ‘not to alarm you but we are going to send an ambulance’.

“I was alarmed but equally thought, ‘thank God I called’.”

The consultant had some pretty frank words with us about her condition because babies’ conditions with these things can change very rapidly


Louise Wood

Paramedics arrived within minutes and quickly assessed Clara.

Louise said their quick response added to her worry, making her more concerned as she realised how serious her daughter’s situation was.

At A&E doctors were waiting for Clara and took her straight into resus, where they immediately inserted a cannula to give her fluids, and put her on oxygen to help her breathe.

It was then the doctor in charge told Louise, and her husband David, 39, that Clara was suffering pneumonia and sepsis.

Mum Louise said she called NHS 111 just to check her daughter's symptoms, but didn't think it was too serious
Mum Louise said she called NHS 111 just to check her daughter’s symptoms, but didn’t think it was too serious
Mercury Press

“We really started to panic,” Louise said.

“The consultant had some pretty frank words with us about her condition because babies’ conditions with these things can change very rapidly.

“We had to wait to see if the treatment they were giving her was going to work.”

Within seven days, Clara was nursed back to full health, in time for her christening.

Louise said it was only after their horrendous ordeal that it hit her how different the outcome could have been.

“It could have been a very different story,” she said.

“No-one wants to hear a doctor tell you ‘its a good job you called when you did’, because you realise then how serious it can be, but it just goes to show how important it is to call and ask for advice.”

Since Clara’s life-saving treatment, Louise has written to the chief executive of Arrowe Park Hospital in Birkenhead and even met up with the staff that saved her daughter’s life.

Louise said: “Clara’s christening service was quite emotional because I had told our vicar about what was happening while we were in hospital.

“He told us that they had all been praying for us which was really lovely and reassuring to know.

What are the signs your baby could have sepsis?

IF your baby starts showing signs of any of these symptoms, you should go straight to A&E or call 999.

  • bluish, pale or mottled skin
  • very lethargic or difficult to wake up
  • feels abnormally cold to touch
  • breathing very fast
  • has a rash that doesn’t fade when you press it
  • has a fit or convulsion

Call NHS111 if your baby is displaying any of these symptoms:

  • a temperature over 38C in babies under three months
  • a temperature over 39C in babies aged three to six months
  • any high temperature in a child who is out of sorts
  • a low temperature – below 36C
  • breathing is harder than normal
  • ‘grunting’ noises with every breath
  • can’t say more than a few words
  • breathing that obviously pauses
  • not had a pee or wet nappy for 12 hours
  • no interest in food or feeding
  • not drinking for more than eight hours
  • bile-stained (green), bloody or black sick
  • soft, bulging spot on baby’s head
  • ‘sunken’ eyes
  • floppy
  • no interest in anything
  • weak or ‘whining’
  • crying a lot
  • not responding, or irritable
  • stiff neck, especially when trying to look up or down


“When I met the nurses and doctors who saved Clara it was amazing but it was very emotional.

“It was just so lovely to be able to thank them and let these people know how grateful we are and how much it meant.

“I wanted it to be more than just a letter of thanks or some flowers and I think it meant a lot to them to see the happy ending to the story because for them I suppose they are just doing their jobs, but they have done so much more than that for us.”

Doctors warned Clara's mum and dad, Louise and David that babies with sepsis can turn very quickly
Doctors warned Clara’s mum and dad, Louise and David that babies with sepsis can turn very quickly
Mercury Press
Clara was kept in hospital for seven days, and nursed back to health
Clara was kept in hospital for seven days, and nursed back to health
Mercury Press
Her parents are now speaking out to warn others, and raise awareness of the signs of sepsis in babies
Her parents are now speaking out to warn others, and raise awareness of the signs of sepsis in babies
Mercury Press

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