Leah Davies was sent home three times by doctors after taking her daughter to see them, but she was convinced something was wrong.
Now she has urged people to use their “parental instinct” after her two-year-old daughter was struck down with potentially deadly sepsis.
Leah, 23, said she took her daughter Penelope Amy Eaton to hospital on two occasions in late October only to be told she had a viral infection which would pass within a few days.
When her condition failed to improve she was taken to her GP surgery for a second opinion, but she said the doctor there said the most likely diagnosis was tonsillitis.
Some 24 hours later, the tot had turned “grey and floppy” at home and was taken to hospital a third time, which confirmed her parents’ worst fears – she had the potentially deadly condition sepsis.
Mum-of-two Leah, from Pontlliw, Swansea, is now raising awareness of the telltale signs of sepsis in the hope of preventing other parents from having to go through the same horrific ordeal.
In a post on Facebook, she said: “We still don’t know the full extent of the infection that caused Penelope’s sepsis and we probably never will, but the moral of the story is to always listen to your parental instinct.
“If you feel like there is something wrong with your child, there probably is. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re overreacting, don’t let them patronise you or make you feel uncomfortable. Get a second opinion and don’t settle until you’re satisfied.”
In response, Swansea Bay University Health Board said it was “satisfied” with the clinical treatment given to Penelope.
Leah said Penelope became very lethargic, had a high temperature and started vomiting on Monday, October 26.
“Knowing kids and how they pick up all sorts of bugs, I gave her Calpol and put her to bed for around 8pm hoping she would sleep off whatever bug she had,” Leah recalled.
“By around 11pm she woke again vomiting and saying her neck was hurting and that she was hurting all over.
“She continued to vomit so much to the point I felt the need to call 111.”
The NHS 111 operator advised Leah and fiancé Chris Eaton to drive their daughter to the children’s emergency unit at Morriston Hospital to be checked over.
“We were seen relatively quickly by a number of doctors and consultants who examined Penelope’s temperature, ears and throat and dipped her urine,” said Leah.
“They all agreed and said what Penelope was experiencing was a viral infection that would pass in a few days and that I should keep on top of pain relief and fluids to manage her temperature.
“We were also advised to take Penelope for a Covid test due to her high temperature and to isolate until we get our result just to be safe.”
However, Leah said Penelope was even worse the following day and that her temperature “was not budging” despite giving her medicine.
“She was still vomiting anything she tried to drink, even the tiniest of sips, and had begun to get clammy and irritable,” Leah added.
“We bathed her, put a tepid flannel on her head and tried to get her off to sleep in our bed where we could keep an eye on her. Again, by 11pm, Penelope’s temperature was very close to 40 degrees.”
Leah and Chris decided to take Penelope to Morriston Hospital for a second time when the 111 service suspected she may have meningitis.
“Again the doctors wasted no time in coming to see Penelope and checked her over,” she said.
“They advised me once again that she had a viral infection that would pass. They told me that this was ‘normal’ with standard viral infections.”
She claimed she was made to feel ridiculous for taking Penelope back, that she was wasting everyone’s time and being ‘an overreacting mother’.
For the next few days, Penelope was fighting the illness at her Swansea home, with her parents keeping a watchful eye over her the entire time.
Leah said: “Wednesday through to Friday were pretty exhausting with up and down temperatures, vomiting and sleepless nights, but Penelope’s Covid result came back negative so that was a relief.
“By Saturday Penelope had perked up and was beginning to become herself again. We thought she had turned a corner and was getting over this ‘virus’.”
But on Monday morning Penelope took a turn for the worse once again.
“I called the GP as I wanted a second opinion. I know Penelope and I knew something else was going on under the surface.
“The GP was happy to see Penelope so asked us to be there for 11am. Upon arrival we were seen in the hallway as they had no dedicated room for ‘suspected Covid’ cases.
“Penelope’s temperature was 40.2 degrees and she was so pale. The GP told us to go home, book another Covid test due to the temperature which meant isolating yet again until the result, get a urine sample and bring it back to the surgery to be tested whenever we could.
“But she expected that Penelope most likely had tonsillitis. I managed to book a Covid test for 12.30pm. Myself and Chris decided we would also get tested just in case Penelope’s original result was a false negative due to me not doing the test correctly.
“While at the testing centre Penelope started burning up. She was very irritable, very hot to the touch and looked extremely unwell. We took her straight home, gave her Calpol and set her up a bed on the sofa.”
Within minutes of being home, Leah said Penelope “turned grey” and would not respond to her.
“Her lips and fingers turned blue, she was floppy, unresponsive and hard to rouse,” she added.
“At this point myself and Chris started to panic. We called an ambulance for our baby girl but were told we would have to wait as they were very busy.
“So we drove, clutching tightly to my tiny, two-year-old baby girl in the back seat. The drive seemed to take hours.”
Due to the coronavirus restrictions, only Leah was allowed into the emergency room with her daughter, with Chris confined to the car facing an anxious wait for news.
“Our tiny, innocent, baby girl had a temperature of 41.5 degrees. Her heart rate and blood pressure were through the roof and at this point she was so unwell she barely even recognised me as her mother.
“The doctors began to do blood tests, blood cultures, fluid boluses, inserted a cannula and wanted to do a lumbar puncture.
“They started her on IV fluids and the strongest antibiotic a two-year-old can have that would fight any bacterial infection that was taking over her tiny body.
“Penelope was sent for a chest X-ray among other scans within an hour of arriving at the children’s unit which all thankfully came back clear.”
The consultant told Leah she was “extremely lucky” to get her to the hospital when she did or she could have suffered major complications.
“She was admitted to the children’s ward where we were greeted by yet another crowd of doctors, and it was then I heard the word that no parent wants to hear – sepsis.”
Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction to an infection. It happens when your immune system overreacts to an infection and starts to damage your body’s own tissues and organs.
It can be especially hard to spot in babies and young children.
“My kind, intelligent, innocent little girl had gone into septic shock and her little body was destroying itself,” said Leah.
“The next few days were critical for her. She continued to spike temperatures of over 40 and was vomiting and suffering from dehydration.
“They continued the IV antibiotics to get on top of the infection, while they did more in-depth blood tests and ultrasound scans to find out what infection had caused her to become septic.”
At one point Leah said there were discussions about transferring Penelope to a high dependency unit at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff to be cared for by specialists.
But thankfully she began responding to antibiotics, her temperature started to drop to normal levels and she was allowed to return home after a few days in hospital.
“The Oakwood ward staff were fantastic while caring for Penelope during her stay.” But she said she felt her concerns were dismissed by some of the staff in the children’s emergency unit.
“I hope that we can help inform others on the symptoms and the seriousness of sepsis and how important it is to start treatment as soon as possible,” she added.
“I find that being a younger mother I’m not always taken seriously, but I am so glad I stood my ground and made sure Penelope was seen to when she was, otherwise this would be an entirely different conversation.”
An estimated 30,000 cases of severe sepsis occur in the UK every year among both adults and children. It is often referred to as either blood poisoning or septicaemia, although sepsis is not just limited to the blood and may affect the whole body, including the organs.
If sepsis is not treated, it can progress from uncomplicated sepsis to septic shock. Severe sepsis and septic shock are medical emergencies and normally require admission to an intensive care unit and approximately 30-50% will die because of the condition.
For every hour treatment is delayed the risk of death increases by 8%.
The key signs of sepsis include:
T– Temperature – higher or lower than normal;
I– Infection – may have signs or symptoms of an infection;
M – Mental decline – confused, sleepy, difficult to rouse;
E – Extremely ill – severe pain or discomfort.
Other signs of sepsis to remember and look out for include:
- Temperature of greater than 37.4 degrees;
- Increased breathing rate and/or grunting;
- Reduced movements;
- Hard to wake/unresponsive ;
- Reduced feeding;
- Slow or fast heart rate;
- Mottled or blotchy skin;
- Blue lips, fingers and toes.
See www.nhs.uk/conditions/sepsis for more information on sepsis.
In response to Leah’s comments, Dr Mark Poulden, clinical lead for the emergency department at Morriston Hospital, said: “We are sorry to hear Ms Davies was unhappy with the service she received in the Children’s Emergency Unit.
“However, we are satisfied that her daughter’s clinical treatment does appear to have been appropriate.
“We are very glad to hear she is now on the mend and will be happy to discuss her treatment in detail with Ms Davies if she wishes.”