The death of a 12-year-old boy from sepsis prompts the state of New York to adopt new health policies.
In April of this year a sixth grader from Queens, NY, Rory Staunton, died of severe septic shock. Apparently Rory became infected after he cut himself playing basketball. He was treated in the emergency room at NYU Langone Medical Center for a stomach ache and sent home. The New York Times reports that,
Hours later, alarming laboratory results became available that suggested he was critically ill, but neither he nor his family was contacted.
After his death, Rory’s parents, Ciaran and Orlaith Staunton, spoke to the New York Times about their son’s final days. These revelations are what have prompted a nationwide discussion about sepsis and what doctors and hospitals across the country need to do to recognize the illness and head it off before another person loses their life.
Thanks to Rory’s parents, and the national discussion surrounding his death, health officials in New York are preparing to make their state the first in the US to require their hospitals to aggressively look for sepsis in patients so as to make it possible for treatment to be started as early as possible. The NY Times reports,
Under the regulations, which are now being drafted, the hospitals will also have to publicly report the results of their efforts.
This announcement comes at the same time as a national panel of sepsis researchers and experts prepare to formally recommend to the federal government that similar standards be adopted nationwide.
Although sepsis is not well known to the general public, it is in fact a leading cause of death in hospitals. Dr. Mitchell M. Levy, a lead author of a paper on the most recent treatment guidelines for sepsis, which is to be published next month in the United States and in Europe, and a professor at Brown University School of Medicine states,
First and foremost, they need to suspect sepsis in Intensive Care Medicine. It’s the most common killer in intensive care units. It kills more people than breast cancer, lung cancer and stroke combined … The case is irrefutable: if you take these sepsis measures, and you build a program to help clinicians and hospitals suspect sepsis and identify it early, that will mean more people will survive.
The problem in identifying sepsis is that in its early stages it presents with symptoms similar to other, less severe illness. Symptoms such as a high pulse rate and fever, which make it difficult for clinicians to tell the difference between this deadly infection or the common miseries that accompany a cold or flu.
Thanks in great part to the advocacy of the Staunton family, Dr. Nirav R. Shah the New York health commissioner announced at a symposium in October that he would “require state hospitals to adopt best practices for early identification and treatment of sepsis.” Dr. Shah also convened a separate symposium on sepsis which not only included reports and presentations from experts in the field but Rory’s parents as well. At the end of the symposium, after all of the information had been presented and discussed, Dr. Shah said that,
He had listened to all the statistics on the prevalence of the illness, and that one had stuck in his memory: Twenty-five percent, the portion of the Staunton family lost to sepsis … He said he would issue new regulations requiring hospitals to use best practices in identifying and treating sepsis, actions that, he was taking ‘in honor of Rory Staunton.’
New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has also joined with the Dr. Shah in supporting this decision. Stating through a spokesman, Josh Vlasto, that he intends to make it a ‘major initiative in 2013.’ Mr. Vlasto also said,
The state is taking unprecedented measures to prevent and effectively treat sepsis in health care facilities across the state and is looking at a wide range of additional measures to better protect patients … the Staunton family’s advocacy has been essential to creating a strong public will for action.
Although these policies came too late to save Rory Staunton, his death and the willingness of his family to share his story and their grief will save countless other lives.