Family photo
Allison, Daniel, and Clover Harrold

When our 9-month-old daughter, Clover, got sick with a fever in 2017, sepsis did not even cross our minds. Clover was a healthy baby and in daycare since she was 8 weeks old. When in daycare, a fever becomes a normal occurrence for children. We were told babies were little “germ factories,” and that seemed relatively true. So, at first, another fever wasn’t alarming. When Clover got sick, I trusted the doctors and their expertise to accurately diagnose our daughter. I wish someone had asked, “Could this be sepsis?”  

Clover started having a fever on a Wednesday night and at that time, it seemed like the daycare sickness had struck again. The next day her fever wouldn’t come down with Tylenol or Motrin and she was acting extra irritable and just wanted to be held.

The next day Clover wasn’t acting like herself at all. She still refused to be put down, she had no interest in playing with her favorite toys, and she just laid on her dad and me all day. As she laid there, her eyes would roll back, and she would doze for small periods of time. She also refused to take any fluids, including her favorite, breastfeeding, or even sips of water from a bottle. We were advised by our pediatrician that afternoon to take her to the emergency department (ED).

Mother holding baby daughter

The ED doctor was not concerned with her signs and symptoms even though others expressed concerns for mottling of her skin and a high heart rate, which are signs of sepsis. She received fluids for dehydration and medication for nausea, but her heart rate remained high, and she maintained a fever. Nevertheless, she was discharged with a diagnosis of an upper respiratory infection.

Clover was clearly very sick, and she continued to get worse. We went back to the ED a second time, but no one knew what was wrong. We waited for hours until eventually the admitting doctors came to see her upon my request. They quickly realized that she was going into septic shock.

Despite finally recognizing her condition, it was too late, and she died a few hours later. The cause of Clover’s death was determined to be septic shock due to infection with group A strep, the same type of bacteria that causes strep throat. I firmly believe that if her condition had been identified earlier, and she could have received earlier treatment, she would have had a far greater chance at surviving. There were numerous missed opportunities for providers to have considered sepsis.

While there are certainly some interventions within the medical system, such as protocols and clinical decision support, public awareness is critical so people can advocate for themselves and their family members.

So, how can we better identify it to treat it earlier? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released the Hospital Sepsis Program Core Elements, a resource for hospitals to optimize patient care and help clinicians, hospitals, and health systems to improve the hospital management and outcomes of sepsis. My hope is that hospitals will use this resource to help ensure they have sepsis teams in place to effectively support the care of sepsis patients and save lives.  

Most cases of sepsis start in the community (or at home), making it essential to be of aware of the signs and symptoms of sepsis. If you or your loved one has an infection that’s not getting better or is getting worse, ask your healthcare professional, “could this infection be leading to sepsis?” If you feel your concerns are dismissed, advocate for yourself and/or your loved ones and clearly communicate your concerns. Especially in children, sepsis signs and symptoms can overlap with other sicknesses, so don’t feel scared to ask. Even as a nurse, I felt like providers viewed me as a “worried mom” and more easily dismissed my concerns. My husband and I have regrets for not being better advocates for our daughter when we had the chance. 

Some points I want to stress:

  • Sepsis is a medical emergency. Sepsis can happen to anyone (we never thought it would happen to us until it did).
  • Prevention and early identification saves lives.
  • Arm yourself with knowledge.
  • If you or your loved one has an infection that’s not getting better or is getting worse, ACT FAST. Get medical care IMMEDIATELY. Ask your healthcare professional, “Could this be sepsis?”
  • Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and your family.

To learn more about sepsis and how to prevent infections, visit www.cdc.gov/sepsis and www.ENDSEPSIS.org

Allison Harrold is the mother of Clover Harrold, who died from sepsis. Additionally, Allison is a nurse with 15 years of experience. She promotes sepsis awareness and excellence in sepsis care through the Clover Award, an award in her daughter’s honor given to hospital staff who display excellence in sepsis care.

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