It’s unlikely that he’ll survive the night, the pediatrician told us, when we first arrived in Hamilton. Theodore was breathing on a ventilator and his blood pressure was critically low.
We later learned that Theo was suffering from septicemia as a result of an invasive strain of Group A Streptococcus. This is the same bacterium that causes the common illness strep throat. We can harbour this bacterium without demonstrating any symptoms and it is easily transferred from individual to individual.
According to Health Canada, an infection from Strep A is very rare, with only a few hundred cases a year, 20 to 30 per cent of them fatal. We were told that that the risk of Theo developing this infection was 1 in 300,000. I’ve quickly learned that statistics are irrelevant when you’re that 1.
Septicemia (also known as septic shock) occurs when an infectious agent enters the bloodstream and causes reduced blood circulation and heart failure. About half of all patients who succumb to septic shock die of multiple organ failure and survivors are often left with difficulties regulating their blood pressure and/or damage to their hearts.
The goal for patients suffering from septicemia is to stabilize their blood pressure and cardiac output while the source of the infection is treated with antibiotics. Treatment involves fluid resuscitation and vasopressor therapy (dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine) – agents which cause vasoconstriction and increase blood pressure. However, one of the main complications of vasopressor therapy is that it can impair blood supply to the tissues of the extremities, often causing limb necrosis.
That night, Mark and I didn’t leave Theo’s bedside. With heavy hearts, and empty arms, we watched our suffering son, knowing that there was nothing we could do to help him.
Night became day and Theo prevailed. He was stabilizing but results of the blood work showed multiple organ failure. It’s a waiting game, we were warned. Don’t expect survival.
As hour after hour passed, Theo slowly defeated the odds. Two days later, we were told that he would survive but would never be the same little boy again. He was still very sick and would suffer debilitating complications from the infection. I felt simultaneously joyful and devastated. Theo would be innocently denied the normal life of a healthy, carefree toddler but our son was still here and fighting. We wouldn’t have to say goodbye.