Cerri Gore was a victim of sepsis

She had been excitedly planning a party for her 21st. But when Cerri Gore’s birthday finally came around, her family found themselves organising a funeral service instead.

Business student Cerri’s death was a complete shock for her family. She’d been perfectly healthy before falling ill after routine treatment on a painful boil.

Just weeks later, she was dead – a victim of deadly sepsis.

Frighteningly, this is not an isolated case. Around 37,000 are killed by sepsis every year – that’s more deaths than breast and bowel cancer put together – and millions more die worldwide.

Yet Cerri’s shocked family knew nothing about the condition – and they are not alone. Despite being the third biggest cause of death in the UK, the public remains pretty much in the dark about the deadly condition.

“Sepsis is the hidden killer. It does not command the kind of headlines that other serious and deadly illnesses, such as cancer, strokes and heart attacks, receive every day,” says Dr Ron Daniels, director of the UK Sepsis Trust.

“These conditions are the subject of campaigns and public funding is available to improve diagnosis, care and treatments, but that’s not the case for sepsis.

“It remains largely unheard of, despite being a huge threat.”

The condition, also known as septicaemia or blood poisoning, is triggered by an infection.

Although a common killer back in Victorian times, it was considered ‘beaten’ by the advent of improved sanitation and tougher antibiotics.

But now it appears that sepsis is back, and every bit as deadly as it was in the past.

“Ironically, it’s our success at saving lives that has allowed it to return,” explains Dr Daniels. “People are now living longer and living with diseases, which is making them more vulnerable.”

Most alarmingly, more and more young people are falling victim to the dangerous syndrome.

“We are seeing healthy young people developing life-threatening sepsis in a very short period of time,” Dr Daniels adds.

Sepsis is a complex syndrome. Difficult to diagnose and treat, its symptoms vary from patient to patient.

It has many different causes – from a chest infection to something as simple as having a tooth pulled by the dentist.

But whatever the reason, the effects are always the same.

When an infection tips the balance of the patient’s immune system, it starts attacking the body rather than protecting it, causing bacteria to overwhelm the blood, which in turn triggers organ failure.

Former Dynasty star Christopher Casenove, 66, was killed by sepsis last year. It was also linked to the deaths of Pope John Paul II in 2005 and Superman actor Christopher Reeve in 2004.

Rapid treatment is absolutely essential if a patient is to beat sepsis, but the condition is difficult to spot and is often mistaken for other illnesses.

Experts such as Dr Daniels believe improved training could slash the death rate – and Cerri’s family, from Liverpool, agree.

They first started noticing problems last summer, when Cerri developed a large and painful boil between her legs.

She went to hospital, had it lanced and drained and was sent to home to recover, but unlike with previous treatments, she was not given antibiotics to protect against the risk of infection.

Days later, Cerri went clubbing with her brother, Carl, and his pals in Manchester, but complained of feeling ill. “I thought that she’d either overdone it while out or was coming down with a nasty cold or flu,” Carl remembers.

“It never crossed my mind for a second that it could be an infection linked to the boil.”

Cerri’s brother Carl and sister Debra

Within days, her condition had grown much worse and she soon started shivering and vomiting.

Cerri was admitted to hospital, but it was another 24 hours before she was diagnosed with sepsis.

“We’d never heard of the illness,” Carl explains. “The doctors told us it was a bacterial infection of the blood, and warned she was really poorly.”

Her condition soon became critical. As the doctors prescribed intravenous antibiotics to fight the blood poisoning, her family stayed by her bedside.

“She was fading before our eyes,” Carl tearfully recalls.

Two days later, Cerri was moved to intensive care, with kidney failure and fluid on the brain.

“We felt helpless. We had to sit at her bedside, watching her get worse until finally after three weeks we were told her organs were shutting down,” Carl says.

Tragically Cerri died in hospital, surrounded by her devastated family.

“Suddenly we were organising her funeral instead of her birthday,” Carl tells me.

“It was like something from Victorian times.”

An investigation confirmed that her deadly infection had been caused by the boil. The report also concluded that antibiotics might have saved her. “We feel Cerri would be with us if she had a course of antibiotics,” he says.

“She had everything to live for, yet she died of an infection that could have been so easily treated if spotted sooner.”

Dr Daniels agrees with the family, arguing that prompt diagnosis is the key to beating sepsis.

Through his campaign group he is trying to educate medical professionals and members of the public about the tell-tale signs of the killer condition.

His aim is to raise awareness about sepsis, so it can be identified and treated within the “golden hour”, before infection overwhelms the body.

He claims that if medical staff perform six key procedures – known as the Sepsis Six – when the patient arrives at hospital, the death rate would fall dramatically – perhaps by as much as 20,000 lives a year.

So far, some 70 hospital trusts have enrolled staff on the Survive Sepsis training course and implemented new treatment guidelines. But Dr Daniels wants to see even more action.

“The international target for the campaign is to reduce sepsis deaths by 25%, but I think it should be possible to save many more,” he says.

Sepsis survivor Mark Sollis has a better idea than most of just how crucial early diagnosis can be – he very nearly became another of the syndrome’s victims last year.

The software engineer, 47, was already seriously ill in intensive care, battling pneumonia and Legionnaire’s disease, when doctors told him they thought he might well have sepsis.

After following the Sepsis Six rules, medics quickly diagnosed him and he was prescribed life-saving treatment.

He is so lucky to be here today. “When they first told me what had happened, I think I was considerably more worried about having had Legionnaires and pneumonia, but I now realise that my life was under greater threat from sepsis,” Mark says.

“Like a lot of people, I just didn’t realise how serious the condition is. If it hadn’t been spotted and treated quickly, I probably wouldn’t be around right now.”

Cerri’s grieving family and friends are determined that her death will not be in vain.

They have dedicated themselves to educating people about the dangers of sepsis and are planning a sponsored run in her memory and in aid of Dr Daniels’s UK Sepsis Trust.

“We don’t need any more needless deaths like Cerri’s,” Carl says.

“No-one’s family should have to suffer like this.

“If we’d known the signs, perhaps we could have got Cerri to hospital sooner.

“If she was diagnosed and treated more quickly, I believe it’s likely she would still be with us today.

“We want Cerri’s story to help others. Sepsis is right now killing young and healthy people like Cerri. The public need to know.”

We helped the family of Cerri publish their heart felt tribute to a much loved sister and daughter. They wanted to tell Cerri’s story to help raise awareness of sepsis and prevent any other family suffering the way they have.