Boy, 4, begged mum not to let him die a day before he lost life to sepsis

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A four-year-old boy who lost his life to sepsis a day after being discharged from hospital begged his mum not to let him die, an inquest heard.

Sheldon Farnell’s devastated mum Katrina said the family “naively” put their trust in the doctors who treated her son, with the paediatrician who discharged him admitting it is his “lifelong regret”.

The child died at Sunderland Royal Hospital on November 26, 2018, three days after he had first been admitted feeling unwell, the coroners court heard on Monday.

In a statement read to the jury, Katrina said: “On the last day of his far too short life my son begged me not to let him die. No four-year-old should know about death.

“We begged for help, we are supposed to put our trust in doctors, we naively did, and now my only son is dead. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. My son died in my arms.”

Deputy Chief Coroner for Sunderland Derek Winter heard how tests were carried out after Sheldon arrived at A&E displaying symptoms that could have been warning signs of sepsis.

But by the time interim blood culture test results came back that showed he had the severe infection, the boy’s condition had improved so much so that medics suspected the positive result was due to a contaminant.

Sheldon was discharged from hospital by Dr Geoffrey Lawson, despite the fact that the definitive results had not yet come back.

Dr Christopher Settle, a consultant microbiologist, then contacted the ward after the final blood culture tests returned a ‘ground positive’ result for Group A streptococcus, a bacteria that can cause sepsis, the inquest was told.

Dr Settle advised that Sheldon was at risk of becoming seriously ill and recommended he be given the antibiotic Amoxicillin.

When the hospital was unable to contact Sheldon’s family on the three phone numbers they had for them it was suggested police were called.

However, Dr Lawson, who had 28 years experience as a consultant paediatrician, assessed the situation as not being serious enough to involve emergency services.

He advised that the patient’s GP should contact his parents’ family in the morning.

That night Sheldon was rushed back into hospital after he began to deteriorate rapidly at home, and he died the following morning.

Dr Lawson had been at a meeting where treating children with sepsis was discussed the day before Sheldon was admitted.

He told the hearing he has “reflected” on the case closely over the last two and a half years.

He said: “I saw Sheldon and I did not appreciate his serious illness, which will be my lifelong regret. Children are not supposed to die…after they receive our care.”

Dr Lawson described how the first time he saw Sheldon on the ward there was no major cause for concern, but he decided to keep him in for 24 hours.

He added: “Because I saw a child that was improving and mum was keen to go home and no further results could be available that day the routine is to take contact details for the family.

“Clearly, in retrospect it would have been better if I had kept him in hospital until I knew that result.”

When the positive blood culture result came back Dr Lawson said the fact that Amoxicillin, an antibiotic that is usually taken orally not intravenously, was being suggested led him to believe Sheldon did not need to be back in hospital immediately.

“If the advice had been I recommend this boy is brought back to hospital that is what would have happened,” he said.

And when it reached 9pm and they had still not been reached, Dr Lawson decided it was not necessary to call police.

When Sheldon was returned to hospital during the early hours Dr Lawson, who was at home, was called back in. But nothing could be done to save the boy’s life.

The inquest continues.