Jason Watkins highlights key sepsis symptoms after daughter’s death – what is the condition?

Jason Watkins. (Getty Images)
Jason Watkins doesn't want other parents to lose their children to sepsis in the same way he did. (Getty Images)

Jason Watkins has opened up on the avoidable pain of losing his two-year-old daughter Maudie to sepsis.

Appearing on Thursday's episode of Good Morning Britain alongside wife Clara Francis, the grieving parents spoke out about how they weren't aware of the symptoms for the condition.

"It's hard for us as parents... that's one of the painful things, 'Did we do everything we could?' and it's easy to blame yourself and I suppose I still do because I was there when she was discharged a second time."

Francis added, "I think we always will because I think it is that instinct thing, 'If I had just been more demanding,' even though I didn't know [she had sepsis]."

But the pair – with their new documentary Jason & Clara: In Memory of Maudie airing tonight on ITV at 9pm – are selflessly campaigning to help others be more aware of often hard-to-spot signs of sepsis.

"Those symptoms often hide behind what we call 'presenting symptoms', so it might be a cold or a chest infection, that the sepsis could be lurking underneath," said Watkins.

"So in a way, one has to ask, 'Could it be sepsis? Let's rule this out first and then start looking at those presenting symptoms'.

"But it is a very complicated... infant A&E is complicated."

Read more: Student was left fighting for her life after mistaking sepsis for ‘freshers' flu’

They explained they took Maudie to the emergency department two days in a row and were sent home both times because they had misdiagnosed her with croup, a childhood condition that affects the windpipe, airways to the lungs and voice box.

"She did have a cold," said Francis. "Because I believe sepsis is a secondary illness. So, she had flu and she had a rasping cough... we were very reassured, we took her to the hospital, and were sent home twice.

"I think at that stage, before your child dies, you believe what you're told when a doctor tells you... I was incredibly reassured.

"I was like, 'My instinct is that she's really not well but if they're telling me she's okay and they've sent her home and they haven't asked to keep her in overnight then fine.'"

With the parents visibly emotional, Watkins stepped in, "When we drove Maudie to the hospital for the second time," added Watkins, "she was having breathing difficulties, and those are the things that are classic symptoms of sepsis.

"It's what's called a stridor where your child is fighting for breath, and her eyes were rolling into her head.

"When we came into the A&E department, I wanted to say to all the healthcare professionals, 'Did you not see what she was like when she came in?'"

They hope that more discussion of the condition will help with diagnosis.

BBC presenter who had sepsis pictured back at work. (Supplied/@SarahMcMullanTV)
Presenter Sarah McMullan previously dismissed her sepsis symptoms. (Supplied/@SarahMcMullanTV)

Sepsis can be hard to spot in any age. One BBC Scotland presenter wasn't aware she was suffering from signs of the condition despite having interviewed a woman who nearly died from it, a month earlier.

Sarah McMullan started feeling "really cold" during a morning shift but waited more than 36 hours to phone NHS 24 (the Scottish 111), the BBC reported in November, going on to spend nearly a week in hospital with a temperature reaching highs of 40 degrees.

"If you suspect #sepsis don't hesitate to get help. I should've acted sooner," the 30-year-old wrote on Twitter at the time.

Read more: As Kate Garraway shares husband's sepsis battle, signs and symptoms of the condition

Her illness in early October followed a television segment she did for Sepsis Awareness Month for BBC Scotland's The Nine on 1 September.

Kimberley Bradley, the interviewee, spoke about her experience of being in an induced coma for eight days after contracting what is known as meningococcal septicaemia, which had developed into sepsis.

"A month after doing this interview, I ended up very unwell with sepsis myself. Resulting in an A and E visit, a week in hospital and a couple more weeks of tablets and rest," McMullan's Tweet also explained.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Drivetime, she said, "She [Bradley] spoke through all of the symptoms and what to look out for and what to remember and when to get help and I did not remember them well enough."

It was just a few weeks later when she was in the studio in Glasgow for a morning shift one Wednesday that McMullan stated to notice something wasn't right. This included feeling cold with goosebumps, physically shaking, her lips turning blue, pale skin with chalk white hands, and feeling spaced out.

"It was hard to make sense of what was happening. It crossed my mind, 'Am I having some sort of panic attack?'" she said.

"It felt like something mentally might be happening to me because I was so confused and quite weepy actually."

Read more: 'We thought Mum was just exhausted. A few days later, she was gone.'

Watch: Kate Garraway reveals Derek Draper's sepsis battle

But as someone young and healthy, she disregarded how she was feeling as potentially being due to not having breakfast or the start of a cold.

The next day after work, she went to bed for a while, but when she woke again that afternoon she had similar symptoms and finally called NHS 24 in the early hours of Friday morning.

McMullan was in tears, not knowing what was wrong with her, while battling spiking temperatures. After spending five hours in A&E, she was moved to a ward, where doctors told her she was lucky she was there on a quiet night with less patients.

"Had I had a longer time to wait I cannot imagine how much more unwell I would have felt," she said

McMullan spent six days in total in hospital, but focused on the positives.

"It could have been a lot worse. That's what I was told on several occasions," she said.

"The doctors kept saying to me 'You have been very lucky here.'"

Posting a photo of herself feeling better and back to work after the ordeal, McMullan was also keen for everyone to be aware of the key symptoms of sepsis.

She told Drivetime, "If you suffer any of these symptoms, like the spike in temperature or the uncontrolled shivering, just make the phone call and get help.

"It really is the difference between it being life or death in some instances."

What is sepsis?

Shot of a senior woman suffering from chest pain and struggling to breathe at home. (Getty Images)
Anyone can get sepsis, but older people are among those more likely to get an infection that causes it. (Getty Images)

Sepsis, sometimes called septicaemia or blood poisoning, is a life-threatening reaction to an infection, according to the NHS.

It occurs when your immune system overreacts to an infection, starting to damage your body's tissues and organs.

Anyone with an infection can get sepsis. But some people, including babies; over 75s; people with diabetes; people with a weakened immune system; those who've recently had surgery or a serious illness; and women who've just given birth, had a miscarriage or an abortion, are more likely to contract it (due to being more likely to get an infection in the first place).

You can't catch it from another person.

Read more: Differences between flu and COVID-19 symptoms ahead of so-called 'twindemic'

Sepsis symptoms

Confused man. (Getty Images)
Confusion is one of the signs of sepsis. (Getty Images)

Sepsis symptoms can be tricky to spot because they are also associated with conditions like flu or a chest infection.

Early symptoms might include:

  • high temperature (fever) or low body temp

  • chills and shivering

  • fast heartbeat

  • fast breathing

Urgent symptoms in adults include, include:

  • acting confused, slurred speed and not making sense

  • blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue

  • a rash that doesn't fade when you roll a glass over it

  • difficulty breathing, breathlessness or breathing fast

Urgent symptoms in a baby or young child include:

  • blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue

  • a rash that doesn't fade when you roll a glass over it

  • difficulty breathing, breathlessness or breathing fast

  • a weak, high-pitched cry that's different to usual

  • not responding like they normally do, or not interested in feeding or normal actives

  • being sleepier than normal or hard to wake

Read more: Early menopause may increase dementia risk and other things you need to know

Baby sleeping at home. (Getty Images)
Sepsis can be harder to spot in babies and people with health conditions or learning disabilities. (Getty Images)

Call 999 or go to A&E if you, your baby or young child has any of these symptoms of sepsis. It can be particularly hard to spot in babies and young children, people with dementia, people with a learning disability, and those who have difficulty concentrating, so be extra vigilant.

You can also call 111 for advice if you, your child or someone you look after feels very unwell or like there's something wrong, hasn't urinated all day, keeps vomiting and can't keep food or milk down, has swelling pain around a cut or wound, has a very high or low temperature.

For more information on sepsis and how to prevent infections, see the NHS website.

For support for survivors, visit The UK Sepsis Trust.