A heartbroken mom has spoken of her devastation after she took her angelic three-year-old daughter to the hospital and returned home less than four hours later with just a memory box, when deadly sepsis claimed her life.
A simple throat infection had developed into sepsis – a life-threatening reaction to an infection – leaving her parents, waitress Lori Mullen, 34, from Bo’ness, West Lothian, and joiner Andrew Aitken, 41, together with her big brother, Cayden, 12, completely bereft.
“She woke up with a fever one morning and was dead by teatime the next day. It is not even like she had been ill or had flu. It was a simple strep A infection. It was in her throat. Maybe she inhaled something when she sneezed. We will never know.”
“Her brother did not even get a chance to say goodbye.”
She was sick at around 3pm and developed a rash on her tummy, which would not go away so, fearing she could have meningitis, her mom called an ambulance, which rushed her to the E.R. at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, with a temperature of 41.5 C (106.7 F) – well above the normal range of 36.5 to 37.5C (97.7 to 99.5 F).
Lori explained: “The rash was making me panic. I knew that every minute counted, but she was still responsive.”
Lori explained: “She was drinking lots of water, so the doctors thought it might be a urine infection.”
“Harper was sitting up at this point laughing, playing peek-a-boo. Her temperature had come down to 38.5 C (101.3 F) so I took all of that as a good sign.”
“She was pointing at the ceiling and screaming. She would do it for a couple of minutes. I was reassuring her saying, ‘Mummy’s here,’ and she went back to sleep,” said Lori.
“Harper was getting ratty at this point. She was shouting at me and didn’t want to wash her hands after going to the toilet.”
“Then, all of sudden, she collapsed in the waiting room. She just flopped in my arms. She felt so heavy,” Lori explained.
Rushed into the doctor’s surgery, Harper sat back up and her temperature began to fall, before she flopped forward again, her eyes started rolling and her bowels opened.
When the doctor saw that her back was covered in a red rash, an ambulance was called and she was given a shot of penicillin.
“She was still awake, lying there watching everything. She never cried or said she was scared or anything,” Lori recalled.
“She was taken straight into a resuscitation room, where they managed to stabilize her blood sugar levels. Then she was taken into theatre.
“She deteriorated so quickly. They asked if they could drill into her leg to put fluids and antibiotics straight through the bone, because her veins had collapsed. I said, ‘Do anything you can to save her.'”
“I felt complete disbelief. I could not believe this was happening in front of me. It was like a film,” she said.
“I said, ‘It’s okay put your mask back on,’ and she rolled her eyes at me, before putting it back on and simply saying, ‘OK.'”
By this point a specialist team had arrived from Glasgow to put her into an induced coma.
“Just as I said that a doctor came out and told me she had rejected the tubes and her heart had stopped beating,” she continued.
“We were all told go in for the resuscitation. Her dad and I went in. They tried so hard to save her. They tried for 45 minutes.
A post-mortem was carried out and they expect to get the results in September.
Lori, who has set up a memorial for Harper in the garden with a bench and a large Cinderella planter, said: “Now most days I’m on autopilot. I find it worst at night because of the silence. When Harper was in the house she would be loud, running about and playing, so the silence really hits me. I just take each day as it comes and try my best to get through it.
“Harper was a feisty little character. She loved animals – all creatures even insects – and she loved being outdoors. She had a guinea pig, a dog and a cat.”
Lori recalled: “She loved going to nursery. She had lots of friends and she loved her big brother.
“She was really cheeky. If she did not want to do something, she would not do it. Right up until her last breath, she was so single-minded and would shout at me if she wasn’t happy about something. It was like she was 13 rather than three.
She said: “She was a huge Ed Sheeran fan. She would only listen to his music in the car, and he was played at her funeral. His music means so much to us now, as it reminds us of her.”
She explained: “Everybody presents differently with sepsis. Not all the signs are the same. Harper was seriously thirsty and was still going to the toilet and that is not on the symptom posters.”
“Her temperature had gone up, but just before she died it went down again. It is like it tricks you,” she said.
“I take comfort from the fact that she did not suffer. It was so rapid and I’m so glad she was not in pain.”
Lori added: “Raising awareness is a way of making sure her death is not in vain. I want to keep talking about Harper and I do not want her to be forgotten.”
A spokesperson for NHS Forth Valley said: “We are carrying out a full internal review into the care and treatment provided to this little girl and will share any learning with local staff and the child‘s family.
“NHS Forth Valley supports the Scottish Patient Safety Programme which aims to improve the identification and treatment of sepsis amongst a wide range of healthcare professionals.”