The family of a 13-year-old girl who died days after becoming ill with sepsis, say they are keen to help secure extra care for other poorly children as her legacy.
“Outdoorsy and happy” Lauren Menzies from Eccleston, died on December 11, after the illness attacked her lungs and brain.
Now, in a bid to make the “best of an awful situation”, her family, including mum Sarah, dad Chris, brother Rafe, 11 and sister Leah, nine, have all signed up for challenges in the year ahead.
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They hope to add to the fund of £14,000 already raised in her name for Alder Hey Children’s Hospital where she was treated in her final days.
They want to make sure that resources are in place so staff are not just restricted to their “bread and butter” nursing, but can provide extra care for families and make memories with the patient. They also want to help the hospital continue its industry-leading trials.
>>> Donate to Lauren’s fundraiser here
“We’re never going to bring her back, so we’ve got to do stuff that helps. I can’t just sit around and cry either for the kids’ sake”, said Sarah, 45, a company secretary.
It was Sarah who somewhat tentatively took Lauren to Chorley’s A&E department on Friday, December 6, after becoming worried about her increasingly poorly state.
At that point, the teenager had spent three days off from Bishop Rawsthorne Church of England Academy in Croston, but her parents were not unduly worried.
Sarah said: “When I took her in, I was worried I was over-reacting a bit.
“There was so much (illness) going around, I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary. She’d been at her dance class on Monday and a drama production on the Tuesday, so there was no indication it was anything more serious than a tummy bug.
“She’d stayed off school and was on the settee, moaning about the flavour of Lucozade her dad had got her.
“I wasn’t concerned, but then she started breathing a bit fast and seemed a bit confused.
“Then she went downhill so quickly. When we got to A&E she walked up to the counter and was talking to the woman there. Then while we were sat there she deteriorated. She got more confused, she was giving people hugs, weird stuff. When she was being triaged, she was asked her date of birth and got confused over the month.
“The triage nurse, she said straight away that it was sepsis and they were straight on it. At that point I was shocked. I felt daft, because it’s such a buzz-word at the moment and I hadn’t thought of it.”
Lauren had what Sarah describes as a “perfect storm” of illnesses - Influenza A and Staphylococcus - both viral and bacterial infections.
Her body over-reacted to the illness, and chemicals her immune system released into the bloodstream to fight an infection caused inflammation throughout the entire body instead.
Sarah said: “She went downhill so fast. The doctors told me that if I hadn’t have taken her in that night then she would have been dead the next day.
“I was also told that fit and healthy young people can be more badly affected because their body is able to fight it more, so by the time they start to present with symptoms, they’re already really sick.”
Sarah said the NHS were “marvellous” and when sepsis was diagnosed, the staff at Chorley A&E quickly arranged an ambulance to take Lauren to the paediatric care unit at the Royal Preston Hospital.
She was blue-lighted in an ambulance to Preston, already on antibiotics and fluids.
Sarah said: “They had to sedate her because she was being quite combative because of the illness, trying to fight them putting an oxygen mask on.”
When she was sedated, her heart stopped, due to the stress of the illness on her body. After being resuscitated, hospital staff arranged for her to be transferred to a paediatric intensive care unit at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool.
Lauren remained sedated on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
On the Tuesday, doctors put her on an ECMO machine to take blood out of her body, re-oxygenate it, and then put it back in. Even though machines were breathing for her, the family was told that there was a 99 per cent chance her lungs would recover and specialists were even brought in to show the family how to carry out rehabilitation exercises for when she came round.
Sarah added: “Then the infection, the swelling, got to her brain, and that’s when they knew she wasn’t going to get better.”
The family made the heart breaking decision to switch her life support machines off.
Sarah describes the days that followed as a blur and a total shock.
She said: “You think things like flu and viruses can be dealt with now, it’s not such a big issue. That’s what makes it difficult to get your head around.
“But these things happen, it was a perfect storm of a virus and bacteria.
“Everyone talks about the speed of sepsis, but that’s what really hit us. She was so fit and healthy. So I would say to anyone worried, don’t write it off, it could be sepsis.”
Lauren’s funeral was held on Christmas Eve, with hundreds in attendance.
“Christmas Day was a bit of a blur” said Sarah. “We were meant to be away skiing and I’d already got Lauren’s presents. We did presents in her room and the children took it in turn to open her presents and decide what they wanted of hers.
“We were just so numb, it didn’t really matter what time of year it was. But I suppose it’s another first that we’ve got over very quickly.”
After Christmas, the family and their friends turned their attention to fundraising for Alder Hey.
Sarah said: “When we were there, one of the nurses came and took the other children out to the park to give them a break. He wasn’t so exhausted from his shift that he couldn’t take them to Costa on the way back.
“If they were strapped for cash, if they could only do the bread and butter stuff they were being paid for - the nursing - then this is the sort of thing that would fall by the wayside.
“Other nurses came in with a canvas and we did hand prints and finger paintings to keep. They gave us all the time in the world and put fairy lights in her room.
“They even made sure they plaited her hair every day, they really cared for her.
“That is the stuff that would go, but that’s what really makes a difference. If you have to go through it, it’s the best of awful it can be.”
The family also stayed at Ronald McDonald House at the hospital. The Ronald McDonald charity provides free family accommodation just a stone’s throw away from children’s hospital, so families can stay nearby together.
Sarah said: “It ended up being a God send. But again, at first, we thought we were frauds. That’s where people with really sick kids go!
“But it made it possible for us to spend time together as a family.”
To help them better cope with their grief, the family now have a new puppy, a black Labrador called Luna, and each have at least one challenge to motivate them.
Sarah is doing an open water swim in Derwent Water in July. Chris, 48, a civil servant, is doing the Scafell Pike Marathon in August at the Wooller Marathon in November, and Rafe and Leah have signed up to Mucker Junior, a muddy obstacle course that finishes with a slide into a plunge pool.
Sarah said: It’s something to focus on. These fundraisers, they’re important to keep her name out there too.”
As well as fundraising, Sarah has started a blog about Lauren’s treatment, death, and coping with grief, called laurensmum.com
She said: “It’s cathartic, it helps me to say things that I want to say to people but can’t.”
She added: “At first I was Googling a lot. I wanted to know I wasn’t alone.
“But we found out that we’re not. We had to make an appointment for the chapel of rest at Alder Hey. That’s a children’s hospital.
“Then Lauren was transferred to Derian House, and the car park was full.
“In every day life, you’re in a bubble and you don’t think about it.”
PANEL: Who was Lauren?
Lauren was a keen dancer, enjoying ballet and modern at the Lucy Collins Academy of Dance. She was also part of the Youth Theatre at Chorley Little Theatre.
When she first became ill, her family were worried whether she would be able to make their Christmas skiing holiday or her dance show.
“She was dancing four days a week at that time, rehearsing for a show”, said Sarah. “She was so healthy”
Sarah said: “She was funny, witty, always wanted to have a laugh. She loved orienteering too, always loved getting covered in mud.
“And being the eldest of three, she seemed to zone in on people who needed help. She was a nurturing girl, but always up for a laugh, she loved practical jokes.”
PANEL: What is sepsis?
Sepsis is a rare but serious complication of an infection. Without quick treatment, sepsis can lead to multiple organ failure and death.
It happens when your immune system overreacts to an infection and starts to damage your body’s own tissues and organs.
You cannot catch sepsis from another person.
Sepsis is sometimes called septicaemia or blood poisoning.
Symptoms can be vague. They can be like symptoms of other conditions, including flu or a chest infection.
You should call 111 if you, your child or someone you look after:
- Feels very unwell or like there’s something seriously wrong
- Has not had a pee all day (for adults and older children) or in the last 12 hours (for babies and young children)
- Keeps vomiting and cannot keep any food or milk down (for babies and young children)
- Has swelling, redness or pain around a cut or wound
- Has a very high or low temperature, feels hot or cold to the touch, or is shivering