09/13/2017

Sepsis awareness can turn tragedy into hope

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Orlaith Staunton is steadfast in her belief that knowledge is power, and that conviction motivated her to educate others about sepsis. Ciaran and Orlaith Staunton lost their 12-year-old son, Rory, to sepsis in 2012. Since then, they have made it their mission to raise awareness of sepsis, a life-threatening medical condition that arises when the body's escalating attempt to fight an infection fails.

"Five years ago when Rory got sick, I didn't know what sepsis was," his mother says. "The only way to make sure no other families goes through the tragedy we have gone through is to educate."

Randi Weingarten at Sepsis Foundation event

As a part of their campaign to educate others about the condition, the Stauntons established the Rory Staunton Foundation. Each year during Sepsis Awareness Month, the foundation holds a national forum; this year, the AFT hosted the event in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 13.

For the last year, the foundation has worked with the AFT to create a sepsis education curriculum that emphasizes what sepsis is, how to prevent it and how to recognize the warning signs. In 2017, the New York State Departments of Health and Education made sepsis education a part of the curriculum in every school statewide. The curriculum is also available on the AFT's Share My Lesson platform. Those and other resources are available on a special sepsis page on AFT.org.

"Over the years, my children have brought me lots of information about Ebola and Zika and AIDS, but nothing about sepsis," Orlaith Staunton told forum participants. "We have consistently said that, if our children had learned about sepsis in schools, Rory would be alive today.

"We're happy these conversations will be taking place in homes throughout New York state," Staunton added. "We want to see this curriculum in every state, and we want to see sepsis being talked about like other illnesses."

"The notion of kids dying because of an illness that no one knows about or talks about, but which is imminently treatable, is morally reprehensible," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. "Unless something becomes a political disease like Ebola or Zika because of when or where it arose, the awareness that people need doesn't happen."

To help raise awareness, the AFT has focused on engaging and educating members on lifesaving solutions to prevent and treat sepsis. "We are making sure every single one of our members has a fact sheet and a card so that they can recognize the signs of sepsis," Weingarten said. "The AFT is walking the walk to find a way to ensure no others lose a loved one to sepsis."

[Adrienne Coles]