Sepsis: ‘Not once were we educated on this silent global killer which stole our son’s life’

Family of boy (15) who died from condition launched an awareness campaign so others ‘don’t have to go through what we are going through daily’

Seán Hughes came home from school complaining of flu-like symptoms. Four days later, he died on January 12th, 2018.

Seán Hughes was a bright, bubbly teenager – dreaming of a career as a musician – when, one afternoon, he came home from school complaining of flu-like symptoms.

Four days later, the 15-year-old died.

Seán Hughes.

“On the morning of Friday, January 12th, 2018, we lost our amazing son Seán to sepsis,” says his father Joe. “He was only 15 years old and was a healthy young man with no underlying health issues. From a very early age it was clear that he was bound for great things, as he was a singer, entertainer, comedian and best friend to all who had the pleasure of knowing him.

“He had strawberry blonde hair and with the stage name of Lil Red, he was an up-and-coming rap artist who wrote and performed all his own material. He preformed in the Aviva Stadium, Croke Park and the National Concert Hall to name just a few – and was an amazing son to myself and Karen, and will always be his sister Zoe’s best friend.


“But on Monday, January 8th, 2018, he came home from school and told his mum he was not feeling too well. He was displaying flu-like symptoms, which were similar to those of a chest infection – with a persistent cough and crackling sound in his chest. He also had breathlessness and shallow breathing, aches in his muscles and a high temperature.

“The next day he was feeling slightly better, but on the Wednesday Karen took him to the family doctor, who examined him and treated him for a chest infection, including prescribing antibiotics. The doctor stated that he had a high fever and a very bad chest infection and she was concerned that it might progress into pneumonia, so Karen started him on the antibiotics immediately.”

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However, despite the medication, the teenager didn’t improve and the next day he took a turn for the worse and his parents called the emergency services who rushed him, by ambulance, to hospital. “On that Thursday evening, Seán was sitting on the sofa in the livingroom watching TV with Karen,” says Joe. “She was talking to him one minute and the next he was unresponsive. I was upstairs and Karen called me so I ran down to see my son unresponsive and not breathing.

Seán Hughes.

“I immediately got him off the couch and placed him on the floor. I checked his airways and began CPR, while Karen called the ambulance and I continued to do CPR until the paramedics arrived. They took over and asked us to wait in the hall. They asked us whether Seán took anything, but we replied that he just took his antibiotics, as prescribed by the doctor. They also asked if he had any underlying health conditions, but he didn’t.

“They told us that they were going to bring Seán to the hospital, so they put him on a gurney, and loaded him into the ambulance, taking him, just a few minutes after midnight, to Temple Street Children’s Hospital in Dublin. We followed in our car as they wouldn’t allow anyone to ride in the ambulance with him.”

Once he arrived at the hospital, medics got to work immediately to try to stabilise him and to find out what was wrong. The family had an anxious wait and were questioned once again about their son’s medical history – but there was nothing to tell as he had always been healthy, with no medical issues and had merely been treated for a chest infection with antibiotics.

“The doctors in the hospital were baffled as they had absolutely no clue what was wrong with Seán and one doctor told us that if he was to survive, there would be some damage to his brain as a result of the lack of oxygen,” says Joe. “Then after a while, we were told that the doctors wanted to do a MRI scan and move him up into the intensive care unit.

Seán Hughes.

“But they told us that we might want to have some family come up to the hospital, as all indications were showing that he was not going through pull through and that it might only a matter of hours until he would pass away.

Sepsis kills more people in Ireland every year than breast cancer, prostate cancer and AIDS combined. It does not discriminate against age, gender, or strength

“Tragically, he did pass away in the morning hours of Friday, January 12th, 2018 – and our world has never been the same.”

The Dublin man says the family was officially informed at Seán’s inquest that the cause of death was sepsis. “We had never heard of sepsis before this,” he says. “Not once were we educated on this silent global killer which stole our son’s life – at no time was the term sepsis mentioned to Karen or me by the family doctor, the paramedics, or the doctors in the hospital. And we know now that sepsis deaths are preventable as early recognition and rapid treatment are the keys to surviving it.

“We are now consulting with the HSE to produce a new comprehensive sepsis awareness leaflet for the public – as there are at least seven deaths per day in Irish hospitals from this ‘silent killer’ and any infection can lead to it. Sepsis kills more people in Ireland every year than breast cancer, prostate cancer and AIDS combined. It does not discriminate against age, gender, or strength.

“Seán was six months from his 16th birthday [when he died] and our world will never be the same. He had a wake and a send-off, which we know he would have been very proud of and at the funeral, he received a guard of honour by his classmates and friends. All his songs were played inside and outside the church, as it was so full that many people had to pay their respects from outside. His friends have called him their role model as he was quick to help others and we are very proud to have called him our son.”

September is Sepsis Awareness Month and each year there are 15,000 reported cases in Ireland, which result in approximately 3,000 deaths.

Since his death, Seán’s heartbroken parents and sister have vowed to do all they can to raise awareness for sepsis. “After experiencing the lack of public awareness, we set up the Lil Red’s Legacy Sepsis Awareness Campaign,” says his father. “Now, we do all that we can to raise public awareness about it so that another family doesn’t have to go through what we are going through daily. We are using social media to spread the message and have recently recorded a podcast which will be shared during World Sepsis Month.

“We also have a number of different things planned to bring awareness to the Irish public, one of these include myself and Karen going to schools, colleges and sports clubs to give our sepsis awareness presentation. We have also been to Leinster House earlier in the year to give our presentation to the TDs and Senators – and this went so well that we have been invited back again during World Sepsis Month – in addition to this, we have hosted a number sepsis awareness events, which are always very well received.

Seán Hughes.

“One of the many highlights of the Lil Red’s Legacy Sepsis Awareness Campaign is that we were contacted by a mother whose daughter’s life was saved as a result of our campaign. It shows that awareness saves lives, so please make sure you and your loved ones know the symptoms of sepsis, as it is a time-critical medical emergency. If you or someone you know shows signs of sepsis seek medical attention – as every hour counts.”

Commonly reported symptoms of Sepsis include:

  • Slurred speech, mild agitation, confusion, ‘Not feeling right’
  • Extreme aches and pains in your joints, temperature of 38֠ and higher
  • P Have not passed urine in last 12 hours? No urge to pass urine?
  • Short of Breath. Can you finish a sentence without pause? Are your lips tinged with blue? Is your heart racing very fast? Are you persistently dizzy when you sit or stand up?
  • I feel like I’m going to die
  • Skin appears mottled, blueish in colour or new red rash that is still visible when pressed on by your finger or glass (glass test).

(For more information see

Signs and symptoms to look out for in children include:

  • Abnormally cold to the touch
  • Looks mottled, bluish or pale
  • Breathing very fast
  • Is unusually sleepy and difficult to wake
  • Has a rash that doesn’t not fade when you press it
  • Having fits or convulsions

Also, in children under five, be aware if they are:

  • Not feeding
  • Vomiting repeatedly
  • Has not had a wet nappy in last 12 hours

If you any concerns whatsoever, seek medical advice.