Saturday 24 August 2019

'Don't let another child die like Sean' - parents speak of devastation after teenager's collapse

  • Young man said 'It's doing my head in' but then stopped talking
  • 'People of all ages looked up to him'
Sean Hughes (15) from Finglas, Co Dublin, passed away at Temple Street Hospital on Friday, January 12.
Sean Hughes (15) from Finglas, Co Dublin, passed away at Temple Street Hospital on Friday, January 12.
Conor Feehan

Conor Feehan

The heartbroken parents of a boy who died in January during the flu outbreak have revealed that it was sepsis that killed him.

Sean Hughes was only 15 when he suddenly lost consciousness while watching television with his mother as he was getting over a flu-like chest infection.

Sean Hughes mother Karen holds a photograph of her son
Photo: Mark Condren
Sean Hughes mother Karen holds a photograph of her son Photo: Mark Condren
Sean Hughes

Despite the efforts of his father and a team of ambulance paramedics to resuscitate him, he died in Temple Street Hospital.

Sean's family is now calling for a nationwide awareness campaign about sepsis and its symptoms.

They want the HSE and health professionals to include new protocols in their diagnosis procedures so that any cases of the killer condition can be picked up as early as possible.

Around 3,000 people a year die from sepsis in Ireland. It claims more lives than heart attacks, breast cancer or lung cancer, and can kill a healthy person within 12 hours.

Sean Hughes with President Michael D Higgins Photo:Mark Condren
Sean Hughes with President Michael D Higgins Photo:Mark Condren

Remembering the time leading up to Sean's collapse in his Finglas home on January 11, his parents Karen and Joe said their youngest child had been sick with flu-like symptoms which led to a chest infection.

"He hadn't been well but he'd had colds and chest infections before and always shook them off," Karen told the Herald.

"On the Wednesday I took him to the doctor and he was prescribed antibiotics and we were waiting for them to take effect.

"Then on the Thursday night he was lying on the couch and we were watching television.

"Sean had a rattle in his chest and he said 'this is doing my head in', and I thought to myself that I'd take him back to the doctor the next day.

"But then he stopped talking. He just stopped. I couldn't believe it.

"I tried to wake him. I called Joe and he tried to do CPR on him on the floor while we waited for the ambulance.

"It just didn't seem real. I had been talking to him, wondering what to watch on the TV, and half an hour later we were in intensive care in Temple Street."

Karen and Joe said Sean's death shook them to the core.

"We didn't know what sepsis was, and we have learned that not many other people know what it is either," Karen added.

"Any time people asked about Sean's death they would say 'Sepsis? What's that?' and that's when we realised that a campaign was needed to raise awareness about this."

Sean's father Joe said: "When you go to the doctors or a hospital, and even on TV and in the media, you will often see public information on illnesses like meningitis, or the Fast campaign to identify stroke symptoms, but we think it is time for a similar campaign to educate people about sepsis.

"In the event of an emergency, and sepsis is an emergency, a relative shouldn't need to say to a medical practitioner 'could it be sepsis?' That should automatically be part of the diagnosis protocol."

Joe was also critical of messages from the health authorities during the flu outbreak that people should stay away from hospitals.


"We're not health professionals. If someone in your family is sick and you need advice what are you supposed to do? If it's advice or treatment you need, I would say seek help," he said.

Sean's family have described him as a boy who was always smiling, and always helping others.

He had a huge love and talent for rapping, and had been named 'Lil Red' because of his hair colour.

His raps were played at his funeral in St Canice's Church in Finglas, where all his school pals from Colaiste Eoin paid an emotional tribute to him.

"He was an amazing young man and people of all ages looked up to him," added Joe.

"One young lad told us after Sean died that if it wasn't for him he would not be here, that Sean persuaded him away from making a very dark decision."

Sean had such a big personality that, even though he was only in first year, he was chosen by his school to show President Michael D Higgins around during its 50th anniversary celebrations.

Sean obviously made a great impression on Mr Higgins because after his sudden death the Hughes family received a letter of condolence from the President and his wife Sabina.

"He visited us too. We got a call one day asking if it would be OK, and he came out here to us and had tea and sandwiches with us. We thought it was very good of him," said Joe.

"It's still hard to digest what happened to Sean.


"He was such a good lad, and a great character, and I wonder if he was like that at 15, what would he have been like at 30 or 45 or older?

"If one good thing comes out of this it should be some sort of checklist like in other health campaigns - something that people can use to identify this silent and rampant killer."

Joe and Karen also praised the soap Coronation Street for recently including a storyline about sepsis which helped people become more familiar with its symptoms and its serious nature.

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