It is always a concern when your usually energetic toddler falls ill, developing seemingly common symptoms of a high temperature and vomiting. However, for the Cornwallis family of Muchea and their 2-year old son Joel, what seemed like a normal childhood ailment took a sudden and devastating turn that saw Joel in the intensive care unit of Princess Margaret Hospital within 36 hours of developing a fever.
Joel’s mum Kerry explains: “Joel came down suddenly with a high temperature and chills at 5pm on a Friday afternoon, vomiting followed at midnight then extreme fatigue and confusion all day Saturday. We presented to the hospital at 6pm Saturday where they began treating him for dehydration and gastro symptoms. By 9pm the doctors suspected something more sinister as Joel rapidly declined.”
Doctors quickly diagnosed Joel with a Group A Streptococcal infection which had caused his little body to go into septic shock, causing multiple organ failure. Kerry and Joel’s dad, Jesse, lived every parent’s worst nightmare as their son was resuscitated on arrival to the intensive care unit.
“He was on a respiratory machine to breath for him, chest drains, multiple IV lines with many medications and antibiotics running through and a feeding tube. Due to the organ failure his body was overloaded with fluid and the lack of kidney function resulted in 2 weeks of dialysis.” Kerry says.
After being administered absolute maximum does of medication to keep him alive, doctors advised the family it was up now to Joel to rise to the challenge of surviving, they had done everything they could for him. Thankfully, Joel was up for that challenge and tackled every obstacle thrown his way head on. However, Joel’s fight is far from over. The septic shock has caused damage to all of his limbs, and he will require future amputations of the right hand and foot, plus four fingers on the left hand, and partial amputation of his left foot.
Despite still dealing with shock and ongoing consequences of Joel’s illness, Kerry is keen to help other parents become aware of the signs of sepsis. “The main question I get from parents, doctors, and nurses is ‘Was he sick leading up to the fever starting?’. Joel showed absolutely no signs of a bacterial infection. He had been at daycare that day, eaten dinner when he got home, and spent the previous afternoon running around the airport while waiting for his dad. I spoke to Health Direct twice, had a doctor call me and was advised he had gastro and to keep him rested and hydrated. The symptoms are so similar to gastro or flu, what we want people to take away from our experience is the next time you feel something is not right then ask the simple question ‘Could this be sepsis?’”
Family and friends of the Cornwallis family have rallied the community with fundraising efforts to hopefully ease some of the challenges the family will be facing, which include surgeries, lengthy hospital stays, the fitting of prosthetics and rehabilitation for Joel. You can visit the Facebook page “Joel’s Appeal for Hope” for details of their Go Fund Me account, an online auction and details of an upcoming community fitness event with kids’ entertainment, food, and market stalls to help raise funds for the family.