Parents Perspective

What EVERY Parent Needs to Know About Sepsis

Up to 500,000 Americans die of sepsis each year, but a heartbroken family is working to prevent it from claiming even one more child's life. 

Rory Staunton The Rory Staunton Foundation
September is Sepsis Awareness Month—and if the term "sepsis" sounds familiar but you're not exactly sure what it is, you're not alone. Sepsis (also referred to as blood poisoning) is a life-threatening condition that occurs when your immune system essentially goes into overdrive trying to fight an infection. The inflammatory response that's triggered can have devastating consequences—including organ and tissue damage, and death. It's scary stuff, and in fact, up to 500,000 Americans die of sepsis each year.

Rory Staunton, pictured here, was one of those Americans. In 2012, the 12-year-old from Queens, New York, got a cut on his arm at school. He developed sepsis from the infection; tragically—unthinkably—he died just days later.

The Stauntons live with the agonizing knowledge that sepsis is treatable if caught early—and that knowledge led them to create The Rory Staunton Foundation after their son's death. The organization named for their beloved boy is dedicated to sepsis education and prevention, especially in children.

Today, on World Sepsis Day, the Stauntons are again taking their fight to Washington, D.C., for the fourth annual National Forum on Sepsis. This year's theme is "Keeping Our Children Safe from Sepsis," and they're introducing new tools and public education campaigns from the Foundation to help educate school-age kids about sepsis.

This powerful new video, Sepsis: What You Need to Know to Save a Life, is part of that effort, and I implore you to watch it:

Previous Forums have included the following initiatives:

*The National Family Council on Sepsis — a support network made up of people who either have personally been affected by sepsis or share the Foundation's mission to reduce sepsis deaths. The group will also spearhead volunteer opportunities that raise awareness for sepsis. 

*2020 Vision — Rory's Regulations in Every State. In 2013, "Rory's Regulations" were put in place in New York; they mandate that hospitals must have procedures in place for identifying and quickly treating sepsis. The Rory Staunton Foundation is committed to getting Rory's Regulations implemented in every state by the year 2020.

*Public Health and School Education Campaigns — Because anyone can get sepsis, it's important to know the signs, the Foundation developed a Signs of Sepsis infographic and fact sheet to help educate people.

Like many people, Rory's parents, Ciaran and Orlaith Staunton, didn't know about sepsis. They did know something wasn't right with their son. He was running a temperature, had an elevated heart rate, pain in his leg and abdomen, and was having difficulty breathing—but his symptoms were attributed to a stomach virus.

"Rory was a red flag for sepsis the first night we brought him to the pediatrician," Orlaith told Parents.com. "We kept saying, 'He's not well; there's something wrong.' But no one thought to look for sepsis."

Rory Staunton Foundation Signs of Sepsis Infographic The Rory Staunton Foundation

It's a fitting tribute for a boy who cared deeply about others and acted on his beliefs. "He was a tremendous, beautiful child who was very giving, and looking forward to his life ahead of him," Orlaith said when I asked her what she wanted people to know about her son. "He was caring—in school he created a rally to stop the use of the word 'retard.' He was very much a loving older bother. He loved to ride his bike, and he really wanted to be a pilot." Perhaps most important, she added, "He would want no other child to go through what he went through, and that motivates us."

"If either of us had died of sepsis, Rory would be on the phone right now," Ciaran said. "He'd be saying, 'Can't America stop Americans from dying of a preventable illness?' That's the anger and frustration. No parent should have to go through the hell we're going through right now—hell because we buried our child, hell because it was preventable, and hell because thousands of [other] families are going through it."

To learn more about sepsis, to get lessons and resources, or to donate money to help the cause, visit the Rory Staunton Foundation website.

Erika Janes is the executive editor of Parents.com. She and her family frequently play on the field named in Rory Staunton's memory.