When one boy returned home from school with a cut on his arm, it didn’t really concern his parents. After all, children always pick up bumps and bruises. However, when their son passed away just days later, medical failures caused them to issue others with a grave warning.
At just 12 years old, Rory Staunton was a kid with a conscience. He lived with his mom Orlaith, dad Ciaran and sister Kathleen in Queens, New York. And he would regularly hold his own in debates with his peers and family over politics and the world’s biggest issues.
In 2011, to celebrate his 12th birthday, Rory’s parents gifted him his first flying lesson. The youngster hoped to become a pilot when he grew up. And he probably had the drive to do so. Little did his family know, however, that Rory wouldn’t have the chance to fulfill his dreams.
Months after his first flying lesson, in March 2012, Rory fell while diving for a basketball in gym class. The incident left him with a cut on his arm. As a result, his teacher simply put two Band-Aids across it to cover it. For whatever reason, the adult didn’t clean the wound and decided against seeking first aid for Rory.
When he arrived home later that day, Rory told his parents about the accident. However, he wasn’t particularly concerned about what had happened. “How he presented it to me was, ‘I fell in the gym. Mr. D, the athletic director, put the Band-Aids on. And I got the ball,’” his mom Orlaith told the New York Times in 2012.
As a result, Rory’s parents thought nothing of the cut. The youngster completed his homework and went to bed as normal. However, later that night, his mom heard him throwing up in the bathroom. She went to check on him and found him complaining of a pain in his leg. When she took his temperature, it read 104 °F – higher than she had ever seen it before.
Consequently, Rory’s parents decided to consult their family pediatrician of about five years, Dr. Susan Levitzky. Orlaith noted how weak her son was, later confessing he had to lean on her as they entered the doctor’s office. Inside the clinic, Rory continued to vomit.
Rory’s parents showed Levitzky his cut and told her about the pain in his leg. They also explained how Rory’s skin was blotchy to the touch. In the end, the doctor referred the youngster to the NYU Langone Medical Center for treatment.
While there, doctors started treating Rory for what they believed was an upset stomach and dehydration. They gave him anti-nausea drugs and administered two bags of intravenous fluids. They also took three vials of blood for laboratory staff to analyze.
Doctors sent Rory home just two hours after he arrived at the hospital. And they had a simple explanation for Rory’s symptoms. “They stated that it was a common flu that was going around,” Ciaran revealed. “It would start off as high temperature and throwing up and would end up as diarrhea.”
Back at home, however, Rory’s condition worsened. The next morning, his parents consulted Levitzky once more. She recommended some medication and plenty of fluids to help the youngster after he developed diarrhea. But when Rory grew ever weaker, his parents returned to the emergency room.
By this point, even a brush against his skin made Rory yell. He complained of coldness in his toes, and, worryingly, he started to change color. “Around his nose was gone blue,” Ciaran explained. “Down his body side was gone blue.”
In intensive care, doctors put Rory on a ventilator. Now it was all too apparent that they knew something was seriously wrong with the child. That’s when Ciaran and Orlaith heard the news no parents want to hear. A doctor told them that their son – who had always been full of life – was dying.
It turned out that Rory’s symptoms weren’t those of a common stomach flu but sepsis. The deadly illness is caused when bacteria make their way into the bloodstream. In Rory’s case, this most likely happened when he cut his skin while playing basketball.
Doctors did all they could to save Rory, including restarting his heart twice. However, his organs began to shut down, his skin blackened, and his blood stopped being able to clot. When his heart stopped for a third time, physicians were unable to revive him. He had already gone.
The loss devastated the Stauntons. Their heartbreak was aggravated by the fact Rory’s death was preventable. Sepsis, though deadly, is curable. However, in Rory’s case, those around him failed him. In the first instance, no one cleaned his cut properly. Then doctors failed to act upon vital clues that suggested he was fighting a serious blood infection.
After learning that sepsis kills more children than anything else, Rory’s family knew they had to try to make a change. “Rory wouldn’t sit around. He wasn’t a passive kid, he was very involved in causes and very involved with a lot of social issues,” Orlaith told People. “He would have wanted us to do something about this.”
As a result, the Stauntons founded the Rory Staunton Foundation for sepsis prevention. And in the five years since their little boy’s death, they’ve been able to inspire New York and Illinois to adopt sepsis protocols known as “Rory’s Regulations.” In 2017, it was estimated that 5,000 lives in Rory’s home state of New York had been saved thanks to the protocols.
Rory’s family also want to inspire change at the most primary levels of society. In 2017, they released a children’s book that explains the basics of sepsis prevention. The book, called Ouch! I Got a Cut, teaches youngsters how to clean and cover wounds properly to prevent infection.
Yet although the Staunton’s are proud of Rory’s legacy, nothing will bring them their son back. “Where would he be now?” Ciaran wondered. “These questions will be with us until we die. This is a reoccurring pain. It’s every minute of every hour of every day. And we have to stay with that. But others shouldn’t have to.”