'It could happen to any child anywhere'
Since his son Rory died of sepsis, Ciarán Staunton has raised awareness about the condition
Last June, I sat in a bar in New York waiting to meet the owner, Ciaran Staunton. I was there to talk about his work campaigning for visa rights for Irish emigrants in the US. The interview had been arranged months earlier and throughout it Staunton, usually a vocal and focused interviewee, seemed distracted, and I noticed regulars kept interrupting to shake his hand.
At the end of the interview he turned and asked whether I had any children. “One. A 12-year-old boy,” I said. “And you?” I enquired. “I had a son, Rory. He was 12 years old. He died eight weeks ago,” Staunton replied.
Naturally, I was absolutely floored as he told me through reddening eyes about the tragic death of his son. He didn’t want to cancel the interview, and when I expressed condolences and asked how he and his wife, Orlaith, were holding up, he replied: “It is a daily living nightmare.”
Soon, a larger audience would come to hear the story of Rory Staunton, who died from sepsis, having fallen and grazed his elbow on March 28th at a basketball game in a school gym. Ciarán began a campaign to bring about changes in medical procedures relating to sepsis. One of the reasons the Stauntons went public was that Jim Dwyer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist, was a family friend and had known Rory personally.
“It was not an easy decision, says Ciarán. “But we wanted to make sure no other parent has to go through the torture we are going through. You can’t half go public and so we released all Rory’s medical records to the journalist Jim Dwyer. Rory knew him and he knew Rory, and he wanted to get to the bottom of what happened.”
While the Stauntons were still coming to terms with the death of their son, if that can ever happen, they also now had large media as well as medical interest in the case to deal with. “We never heard of sepsis before Rory died,” says Ciaran, “and it is one of the largest killers of children in the world.
“We had no strategy. We just did what we felt was right. The torture and trauma we went through; we don’t want anyone else to experience that. One of the most important questions we could have asked was, ‘Could this be sepsis?’ We knew about meningitis but not this. We never heard about sepsis until he was almost dead.”
Did the family have to deal with any negative publicity ? “The only negative publicity is that our son is dead. There isn’t any more negative you can get.”
In recent months, Ciaran has been invited to speak at several major conferences in the US on the issue of sepsis, and already he has commitments that emergency-room training and awareness will improve in relation to the condition.
While the family work through their grief, there is some consolation in the fact that by going public they may have prevented other deaths.
“After Rory’s death, we tried to make sepsis a word everyone knew about in the media. The other thing is we wanted to make sure all parents with young children know about it,” says Ciaran.
“Rory’s death has been written about in 14 countries and I have emails from parents saying that the media interest has saved their child’s life. This happened to our son in a hospital in the heart of New York. It could therefore happen to any child anywhere.”