One year old Scarlett loses foot and fingertip to sepsis

Baby holding hand

After suffering from sepsis and septic shock as a baby, Scarlett’s left foot and the tip of one of her fingers was amputated. Her mum, Natalie Atkins, shares the story of what happened – and the importance of recognising sepsis in young children.

In March 2018, Natalie Atkins noticed that her one-year-old daughter, Scarlett, seemed poorly. Scarlett had a high temperature, cough and a red pin-prick rash which spread over her chest, tummy and back. Her feet were bluish-purple, mottled and her hands and feet were cold to the touch. She was also very unsettled, lethargic and disoriented. Natalie also noticed that Scarlett wasn’t interested in having anything to eat or drink and had not passed urine. 

Naturally, Natalie was very concerned and phoned NHS 111 for advice at 12:18pm on the 18 March. She was advised to take Scarlett to the Urgent Care Centre at hospital within the hour. They rushed to the hospital, but faced a long wait to be seen by the doctor. Scarlett’s condition got worse as they waited, and she was finding it difficult to breathe.

When they were eventually seen, the doctor told Natalie that Scarlett most likely had a sore throat and a viral rash. The doctor said that they could go home, and prescribed antibiotics. Natalie was told not to use the medicine unless she saw pus in Scarlett’s throat. The doctor told Natalie to take Scarlett to her GP if there was no improvement over the next few days.

After a troubled night during which Scarlett vomited twice, Natalie became increasingly worried. She phoned her GP first thing in the morning, and was given an appointment later that day. However, Scarlett’s condition was only getting worse – so Natalie phoned her GP back to get an earlier appointment. “When I picked Scarlett up in the morning, I noticed she was very floppy and seemed to be moving from side to side. I rang the GP at 9.30am and was given an appointment for 12pm. Shortly after this, Scarlett’s lips began to turn blue and she was having to work hard to breathe. I was extremely afraid, rang the surgery back and my GP, Dr Parry, told me to bring her straight in. I am so thankful that Dr Parry saw Scarlett so quickly – who knows what would have happened otherwise.”

Dr Parry took one look at Scarlett and diagnosed septic shock – a life-threatening complication of sepsis which causes dangerously low blood pressure. He immediately organised for an ambulance to transfer Scarlett to Lister Hospital.

The ambulance paramedics explained that Scarlett was seriously ill. Once at Lister Hospital, the family was told that Scarlett required specialist care and would be transferred immediately to Great Ormond Street Hospital. The Children’s Acute Transfer Service (CATS) team told them that Scarlett was so ill she might not make it to Great Ormond Street. 

Over the next three weeks, Scarlett received life-saving treatment at Great Ormond Street. She was placed on several different antibiotics, had chest drains and multiple x-rays. Sadly, the infection had been so serious that the damage it had caused necessitated the amputation of Scarlett’s left foot and the tip of one of her fingers. She has been left with extensive scarring and skin grafts and is likely to require several further surgeries in the future.

Speaking of Scarlett’s future, Natalie says: “Before her illness, Scarlett had started to get around on her own, feed herself and do the things that most one year olds do. She hasn’t recovered sufficiently to do that now. The doctors say that there will be a delay before she starts to walk, and her legs aren’t expected to grow at the same rate. 

“If there’s just one message that I could get over to parents, it would be this: be aware of the symptoms of sepsis, and if you think your child is exhibiting any of the signs, then call 999 and ask about sepsis. Time is of the essence, the faster you get a diagnosis the better. Delay could result in your child suffering life-changing injuries, or worse still prove fatal. We wouldn’t want other families to go through a similar experience; we’re lucky that Scarlett survived, but our lives have been changed forever.” 


Photograph of Scarlett.

Tees Law is investigating on Natalie’s behalf whether to make a claim for damages against the Urgent Care Centre at Queen Elizabeth II Hospital. Janine Collier, Executive Partner and Head of the Medical Negligence and Personal Injury Team at Tees, commented: 

“In the UK, more people die from sepsis than breast, bowel and prostate cancer put together. Early diagnosis and treatment not only saves lives, but maximises the chances of a full recovery with no lasting problems. Because of this, NICE and the Sepsis Trust have issued clear Guidelines to help healthcare practitioners recognise where a patient is at risk of sepsis and how these patients should be cared for. We will be working closely with the family to review the facts in this tragic case.” 

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Chat to the Author, Janine Collier

Executive Partner, Medical Negligence, Cambridge office

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Janine Collier, partner, medical negligence specialist & cerebral palsy claims solicitor in Cambridge
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