US Senate urged to alter sepsis care after death of Irish emigrant’s son

Father of Rory Staunton says boy (12) was misdiagnosed by doctors

The US Senate was today urged to recommend a new set of health care regulations for the early identification and treatment of sepsis - by an Irish emigrant family which lost a 12-year-old boy to the illness.

New York born Rory Staunton was the son of Ciaran and Orlaith Staunton who emigrated to the United States in the 1980s. He was also a nephew of Irish American publisher, Niall O’Dowd and Minister for State Fergus O’Dowd.

The 12-year-old died of sepsis on April 1st 2012, four days after receiving an infection through a cut to his arm during a basketball match.

today Ciaran Staunton told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions that his son’s illness, which lead to septic shock and multiple organ failure, initially went misdiagnosed by doctors during critical hours when a correct diagnosis could have saved his life.


Mr Staunton told the chairman of the committee Senator Tom Harkin, and Senator Robert Casey they had both met his son in the White House on St Patrick’s Day 2012. “Two weeks after you met him and shook his hand he was dead from sepsis”, he said.

But Mr Staunton said the death, like 200,000 such deaths from sepsis every year in the USA, was “easily avoidable”. He told the committee the illness killed more people than Aids or paediatric cancers and cost more that €17billion dollars a year to treat.

However Mr Staunton said since his family had set up the Rory Staunton Foundation to educate people on sepsis, New York had become the first state to require all hospitals to adopt best practices for the early identification and treatment of the illness.

Mr Staunton recalled New York governor Andrew M Cuomo had said the new practices could save between 5,000 and 8,000 lives each year in New York State alone. They included education for medics on sepsis, clear communication of information to family as well as a parents’ bill of rights. Together the measures had become known in New York as “Rory’s regulations” he said.

Mr Staunton told the committee an urgent sepsis awareness and action programme delivered across the United States, based on Rory’s Regulations could save at least 150,000 lives a year.

“There is a real opportunity to save lives through awareness and education throughout our community of parents and health care professionals as sepsis is treatable once it is detected. If we had heard the word sepsis, we would have looked for it like you look for all things, like meningitis, when you are running through the list of all things it could be”, he said.

“Our son Rory should not have died and we want to ensure that no other child dies unnecessarily because of this silent killer” he siad.

Mr Staunton also paid tribute to Fergus O’Dowd who he said was promoting sepsis awareness measures in Ireland. Mr O’Dowd was present in the senate for the hearing.

Expressing the committee’s condolences Senator Harkin said Mr Staunton had shown “great courage” in not withdrawing into himself on the death of his son, but making sure others did not lose their lives too.

The Committee is continuing to hear submissions from medical professional on acquired infections - largely from health care institutions - and is expected to report later this year.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist