In November 2012, 15-month-old Hayden O'Shea was feeling under the weather.
He wasn't vomiting, he didn't have a rash or any other visible sign that might have given his parents a clue as to what was about to happen. All he had was a fever.
"We had been away that weekend for a friend's' wedding," Tiffany told Kidspot. "Hayden and his older sister Imogen had been staying at my mother's house."
When Tiffany's husband James went to pick up the kids, Hayden was difficult to rouse. He had a fever and had been a bit grizzly all day. But when he got home, he perked up and played and ate and drank as normal.
"He was still irritable, but I just thought that was because he was sick," Tiffany said."I gave him a bath, he was eating and drinking well, he had a bottle and some cheese and yoghurt and that made me feel a bit better."
"I thought there's no way he could be too unwell if he was doing all of that."
Hayden's temperature was still sitting quite high at 39 degrees, and it didn't come down with Nurofen, something Tiffany did not realise was significant until later.
"I didn't think he needed urgent treatment, he wasn't lethargic, he wasn't off his food and his temperature was below 40 degrees," she said.
Tiffany told Kidspot she'd always believed that 40 was the magic number which meant you needed to go to a hospital or seek urgent attention. Because Hayden was only at 39 she instead decided to follow up with a GP the next day if he still felt hot.
"So often you take kids to the doctor and it's just a virus and you get sent home again," Tiffany said. "That's what I assumed would happen."
Saying goodnight for the last time
Tiffany put her son down for an early sleep at 5.30 pm. She checked on him again at 6.30 pm and he looked up at her with a cheeky smile.
"You're supposed to be asleep," she recalls saying to him while returning his smile.
She checked on him once more that night, she doesn't quite remember when, the memories start to become difficult from this point.
At 8.30 pm that evening on Sunday the 12th of November, Tiffany went into Hayden's room to wake him up, only to find out he had passed away some time during the night.
In a blur, Tiffany remembers trying to wake him, trying to resuscitate him, calling an ambulance and yelling to them that she thought her son had already gone.
The ambulance arrived within a few minutes and Tiffany vaguely remembers screaming in horror outside her house while her neighbour tried to comfort her.
"We went to the hospital and they told us he was dead," Tiffany said.
"The doctor told me that they thought it might be meningitis or some other kind of sepsis, and I thought he was crazy."
"How could he have something so serious but be smiling and playing a few hours earlier?"
A long wait for answers
The next 12 months were hellish for the family as they waited for the results of a medical investigation into Hayden's sudden passing. When a baby or toddler dies of an unknown cause the investigation is extremely thorough, and the system does not move quickly.
"I called them every month to see if they had an update," Tiffany said."We just couldn't understand how he'd just died. He'd just gone to bed and died in his sleep. It didn't make sense."
Eventually, they got the call with the answers they were waiting on.
"They told us that he had contracted golden staph and he had developed sepsis," Tiffany said.
Tiffany had no idea where Hayden could have picked up the bug, he wasn't near a hospital where things like that are most commonly contracted. She's since learnt that golden staph lives harmlessly on many people's skin or in their nasal cavities, without ever causing a problem or doing any harm. But when it comes into contact with a person who has low immunity or is more susceptible to the bug for one reason or another, then it can become deadly.
If the bacteria enters the body through a wound, cut or graze, or open skin (such as through a 'drip' into a vein or broken skin such as in eczema), it may multiply and cause an infection. The bacteria entered Hayden's bloodstream and released poisons. This caused Hayden's little body to go into toxic shock and he developed sepsis - his life was taken within hours.
"I was shocked that something like this would happen, we didn't know what to look out for," Tiffany said. "I want all parents to educate themselves and act when you are worried, don't be concerned about wasting a doctor's time or being called silly for overreacting - looking silly is nowhere near as bad as what could happen."
Tiffany has since gone on to have another baby boy, and she and her husband have spent the last few years trying to raise awareness to other parents.
Raising awareness on World Sepsis Day
Professor Simon Finfer, of The George Institute for Global Health, critical care physician, and Director of the Australian Sepsis Network told Kidspot: "Despite advances in modern medicine like vaccines, antibiotics, and acute care, sepsis takes the lives of almost one in three people that contract it.
"But most Australians don't even know what sepsis is, let alone what to look out for. We see people arrive at hospital who are severely ill but thought they just had a bout of the 'flu. Early treatment saves lives but in many cases it can be too late to save them"
Learn the facts
- Globally, sepsis kills up to 6 million children and infants each year
- Each year, more than 500 children require life support because of sepsis in Australia & New Zealand
- Sepsis is a contributing factor in up to 100,000 maternal deaths globally each year
- Sepsis causes around 3000 deaths in Australia each year
- 80% of sepsis cases begin outside of hospital, and even healthy adults & children can develop sepsis from an infection
- Symptoms include fever, chills, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, rash, confusion & disorientation (many of these symptoms mimic other conditions, including flu, making sepsis more difficult to diagnose in its early stages
- Treatment of sepsis includes administration of antibiotics as soon as possible