Parents of 11-Year-Old Who Died of Septic Shock Say Hospital Sent Their Son Home "Desperately Ill"

Rory Staunton, who died of sepsis in April, 2012.
The story of 11-year-old Rory Staunton of Queens, New York, who suffered a routine cut on his arm during basketball practice and died four days later of septic shock --after being sent home from the emergency room at NYU Langone Medical Center--is a cautionary tale for parents.

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In a statement just released to Yahoo! Shine, Rory's parents, Cieran and Orlaith Staunton write, "Our beloved son Rory was the light of our lives. He should never have died. It is clear to us he did not receive the basic standard of care which would have saved him and which he, as an innocent child, above all, had a right to expect. Our beloved boy is gone but we want to ensure that no other family experiences the utter heartbreak and grief we have because of such substandard care." The Stauntons have announced their intention to pursue Rory's Law, which would require hospitals to discuss the results of a child's blood work before discharge, among other measures.

A chilling chronicle of Rory's last days and his death on April 1 was reported yesterday by The New York Times.

On Wednesday, March 28th, the 11-year-old cut his arm during basketball practice in school. It was a small cut mentioned casually in passing to his mother that night. Rory had a stomach-ache by the time he went to bed.

That night, just after midnight, (March 29th), Rory woke up vomiting and complaining of pain in his leg. By morning he had a fever of 104.

On Thursday, March 29th, he went to the office of his pediatrician, Dr. Susan Levitzky, already feeling so sick that he had to lean on his mom to walk in. He threw up twice in the office. The pediatrician said the cut on the arm wasn't the issue and recommended that Rory go to the emergency room. Dr. Levitzky noted Rory's parents' concern that his skin was blotchy when they pressed on it--a symptom that could indicate sepsis, Dr. Michael B. Edmond, the chairman of the division of infectious diseases at Virginia Commonwealth University told the Times--but didn't follow it up. Rory's leg pain was also a sign that could mean an invasive infection, according to Dr. Edmond.

Thursday March 29th, 7:14pm, Rory went to the emergency room and was discharged two hours later, after being diagnosed with "acute febrile gastritis" (the flu), and told to take Tylenol.

On Friday at 10a.m. Rory's parents started calling the pediatrician again. His skin had turned blue around his nose and even a slight touch made him cry out in pain. The pediatrician recommended fluid and crackers again, but then said to return to the emergency room, as reported by the Times.

On April 1, Rory Staunton died in intensive care, of severe septic shock brought on by the infection.

The Staunton family's statement continues, "NYU hospital and its Emergency Room were in turn extremely negligent in their treatment of Rory. Signs of serious illness were ignored and Rory was allowed leave the hospital desperately ill. Rory's pediatrician continued the following day, despite our appeals, to dismiss our concerns. We believe NYU hospital and Rory's pediatrician should acknowledge their negligent treatment of him to the Staunton family, treatment that we believe resulted in his death. They owe it to Rory and the children who will come after him, to ensure that this never happens again."

NYU Langone Medical Center and Dr. Susan Levitzsky did not immediately return calls for comment.

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Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a severe form of sepsis, is when the ordinary streptococcus pyogenes bacteria gets into the blood or soft tissue and causes a generalized infection. It's a common cause of death in hospitals. Organizations to promote better protocols and raise awareness include the STOP Sepsis Collaborative, affiliated with the Greater New York Hospital Association and the United Hospital Fund, and the Sepsis Alliance, which will hold the first Sepsis Awareness Month in September 2012.

Parents who want more information on how to recognize sepsis and Toxic Shock Syndrome can visit the Mayo Clinic web page.

Dr. Scott Weingart, co-chair of the STOP Sepsis Collaborative, stresses that "This is a very rare circumstance. If your child gets sick a few days after they get a cut, they probably do not have Toxic Shock Syndrome." Symptoms that parents should look out for include a child who is confused, showing a different personality or very sleepy and hard to wake. Another "hallmark" of TSS is a bright-red rash all over the body that looks like a sunburn, and may be more pronounced on the hands and feet.

Dr. Weingart also says, "I don't want a family to hear 'sepsis' and think their child is at risk of death. Sepsis is not life threatening. Severe sepsis and septic shock are more worrisome."

The bottom line, Dr. Weingart says, is that parents are very good arbiters of what's normal when it comes to their child. "If your child looks much sicker than you would expect from a simple virus, cold or flu, you should contact your pediatrician or visit an emergency room."


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