Parents don't want more kids to die from little-known condition

Family fights to shed light on sepsis

WASHINGTON -- Health experts gathered in Washington Wednesday to talk strategy in the battle against sepsis.

It kills more than 250,000 Americans every year, making it the third-leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer.

Rory Staunton's parents Ciaran, left, and Orlaith Staunton
Rory Staunton's parents Ciaran, left, and Orlaith Staunton CBS

When 12-year-old Rory Staunton died, his parents Ciaran and Orlaith had no idea what happened. Rory had been a healthy kid until he got injured in gym class.

"He fell and scraped his arm, jumping for a ball," Orlaith said. "About 24 hours later, he started feeling sick."

His parents took him to the hospital, where he was misdiagnosed with the flu. Three days later, Rory died.

"Our son was dead before we heard the word sepsis," Ciaran said.

Rory Staunton died of sepsis when he was 12.
Rory Staunton died of sepsis when he was 12.

Sepsis is a condition triggered by an infection entering a person's bloodstream. In Rory's case, it was after he scraped his arm. The immune system has an overly aggressive response that can lead to organ failure.

On Wednesday, the Stauntons held a national symposium on sepsis. They've already helped change the law for New York hospitals, where doctors are now required to use a checklist to rule out the condition.

At the North Shore-LIJ Health System, the rate of sepsis has dropped by roughly 50 percent.

"It can move quite quickly," said Dr. Martin Doerfler, North Shore-LIJ's associate chief medical officer. "The data says that, from the point of recognition, every hour delay increases the risk of mortality, and that's really why we need to be as aggressive as we are."

For Ciaran, knowing how the regulations have helped other people doesn't make his loss make any easier.

"Burying your child, we'll never have an easy day again," he said. "One of the things that makes us very angry is that Rory could have been saved."

The Stauntons say their greatest regret is not knowing about sepsis. Now, their mission is to make sure other families do.