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Failure to recognise the warning signs of sepsis can lead to amputation

Posted: 22/02/2018

There are now daily news reports of people who have been affected by sepsis. Some patients are fortunate enough to have their sepsis identified and treated appropriately but, sadly, others suffer devastating consequences when there is a delay in treatment being administered.

Just this week the Manchester Evening News reported a story about a 16 year old boy, Ethan Hunt, who suffered from sepsis after thinking he had flu. He was taken to hospital by his parents when they found a large purple rash across his body and suffered a cardiac arrest within 10 minutes of arriving at A&E. Soon after this he had to be put into a medically induced coma and the following day both his legs had to be amputated below the knee as no pulse could be found in his feet. He has still not woken up from the coma but his condition is gradually improving following the amputation surgery.

Emma Beeson, an associate in Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team who has represented a number of clients who have had limbs amputated as a result of delays in treating their sepsis, notes: “Sepsis is a serious condition that can have life-changing consequences and, in some cases, can even prove fatal. It usually starts with a simple infection which becomes more severe when left untreated. The body attacks the source of the infection but in doing so causes injury to its own tissues and organs. The body’s blood clotting mechanism can cause blockages inside blood vessels which means that blood cannot pass around the body in order to provide the necessary oxygen. It tends to be the case that the worst affected areas are the extremities, such as the feet, legs and arms, because the body is trying to help the most vital organs first. Without oxygen and nutrients passing around the body, patients can eventually experience multi-organ failure.

“I have represented clients who have received treatment by way of an ECMO machine which helps oxygen to circulate around the body. This can be life-saving, but often the sepsis has already got to a stage where the damage to the extremities is such that the tissue in these areas has died and needs to be removed or, in more serious cases, the limbs need to be amputated.

“Whilst some of my clients are of course grateful to still be alive, coming round to the realisation that their lives will never be the same as a result of an amputation is extremely difficult. They will require care and support to carry out the most basic of activities that many of us take for granted and will require regular medical input to assist them with things such as orthotics, physiotherapy and prosthetics. The impact their injury has on their family can also be significant.

“In the cases I have dealt with, there has unfortunately been evidence that more could have been done sooner to prevent the deterioration of the sepsis and avoid amputation. The key to ensuring prompt treatment is awareness of symptoms and understanding the signs to look out for.” 

According to statistics, sepsis kills 44,000 people a year in Britain, but awareness of the condition is still very poor and not many people know the warning signs.

Early symptoms of sepsis may include: 

  • a high or low temperature;
  • chills and shivering;
  • a fast heartbeat; and
  • fast breathing. 

Obviously the symptoms noted above are fairly generic and that is why it is important to be careful especially if any of the following symptoms of severe sepsis or septic shock develop, ie:

  • feeling dizzy or faint;
  • change in mental state (eg confusion or disorientation);
  • diarrhoea;
  • nausea and vomiting;
  • slurred speech;
  • severe muscle pain;
  • severe breathlessness;
  • less urine production than normal (eg not urinating all day);
  • cold, clammy or pale skin; and
  • loss of consciousness.

If you or a loved one has been affected by sepsis and you have concerns that this should have been treated sooner, please contact our specialist team on 0800 328 9545.

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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with registered number OC311575 and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority under number 419867.

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP