Father speaks out on sepsis as campaign launched

Craig Stobo with campaign cyclists Claire Gordon and Dan Beckett. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
Craig Stobo with campaign cyclists Claire Gordon and Dan Beckett. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
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A FATHER who lost his GP wife and their baby to sepsis has spoken about his torment as a major campaign was launched to help cut deaths among the thousands of people hit by the devastating illness each year.

Craig Stobo was struck by the disease last year and admitted to hospital on the advice of wife Fiona Agnew. But she also began to suffer sepsis while he was in hospital and died soon after giving birth to a stillborn daughter.

Mr Stobo said he knew “nothing” about sepsis before the tragic events.

Concerns have now been raised that a lack of awareness about the condition, which kills 37,000 people in the UK each year, is hampering efforts to reduce mortality rates in hospitals.

The initiative launched yesterday will see doctors Dan Beckett and Claire Gordon cycling from Scotland to London and hopes to raise awareness of symptoms of the condition, which causes major organ failure and often death.

Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS), along with the UK Sepsis Trust, is also seeking to highlight sepsis to both the public and doctors to speed access to treatment. The condition is caused when the body’s response to an infection goes into overdrive and injures its own tissues and organs. It is most common in the very old, very young and pregnant women, being a major cause of death in expectant mothers, as they already have suppressed immunity.

Symptoms include slurred speech, painful muscles, breathlessness, mottled and discoloured skin and not passing urine. Sufferers often feel so bad they think they are dying.

Mr Stobo, who lives in Edinburgh, felt fine when he got up one morning last August but within hours said he felt like his body was breaking down. When he told his wife his symptoms, she told him to get urgent help.

While he was in hospital in Edinburgh having treatment, Fiona, 38, also began to suffer sepsis, caused by an infection.

She was treated at Forth Valley Royal Hospital and her husband was transferred there. Fiona went into labour and gave birth to a stillborn daughter, Isla. Fiona died soon afterwards.

“It was the most shocking, bewildering and hellish experience of my life,” said Mr Stobo. “In the space of less than 60 hours my own life had been threatened by sepsis, and it had killed half my family. And this was a condition that until then I knew nothing about.”

Mr Stobo, who has a three-year-old son Robert, has since set up the Fiona Elizabeth Agnew Trust (Feat) to raise awareness and fund research into sepsis.

Professor Kevin Rooney, an intensive care consultant and clinical adviser to HIS, said fast-tracking access to treatment was vital to reduce deaths from sepsis, which kills at least 3,700 people in Scotland a year.

Prof Rooney said making sure patients started treatment, including giving antibiotics, fluids and oxygen, ideally within an hour, could save lives.

He added that due to the general nature of some of the symptoms, it was possible people visiting a doctor could be turned away only to become seriously ill very quickly later on. He said: “That is why we are trying to raise awareness among professionals as well as the public.”