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Tuesday 21 January 2020

'It's bittersweet' - Irish mum who lost son (12) to sepsis nominated for prestigious L’Oréal award

Orlaith Staunton and Rory
Orlaith Staunton and Rory
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

An Irish mum who tragically lost her son to sepsis is one of ten finalists in the L’Oréal 'Women of Worth’ initiative in America.

Orlaith Staunton, originally from Louth, has been nominated for her significant work in raising awareness about sepsis, a disease which is relatively unknown but results in up to 250,000 deaths each year in the US, and up to 7,000 in Ireland.

The L’Oréal competition seeks to honour women who are igniting social change and making a difference on a local, national or global level.

In April 2012, Orlaith’s son Rory (12) fell while diving for the ball during a basketball game. His teacher applied plasters to what seemed an innocuous cut, but four days later, Rory passed away.

Now, together with her husband Ciaran, Orlaith has established the Rory Staunton Foundation to help raise awareness about sepsis - so that other parents can notice the signs before it is too late.

Speaking to, Mrs Staunton says the award is bittersweet: “You are nominated because of the lives you may have saved, but the one life you wanted to save, you couldn’t, because you weren’t aware of the signs of sepsis at the time. It’s bittersweet. 

“It’s good to know our work is being acknowledged and we are making a difference, but every day is a struggle.”

The Staunton’s are currently working to have sepsis protocol introduced in every US state. It has already been implemented in every New York hospital.

“We just got word in August that the protocol was passed in Illinois. Right now, we are working hard in Pennsylvania.

“We want all staff to be able to recognise sepsis, and it has to be that every hospital has sepsis protocol, just like they do if you go in with a chest pain,” she said.

On the night of the awards ceremony, November 16, every nominee will receive an award to honour their work, with the overall winner receiving $25,000.

For Orlaith, this money would be invaluable.

“It would be very special because we have already decided that if we win the award, that we will spend it specifically on a youth programme to educate children about sepsis. Rory was only 12. We want to educate 12-year-olds and younger. We want to put together a video that we can share with boy scouts, girl guides, to make them aware that sometimes a simple cut isn’t just a simple cut.”

Orlaith is currently living in Manhattan, where the ceremony will be held in the prestigious Pierre Hotel, together with Ciaran and their daughter Kathleen.

They moved to Manhattan two years after Rory passed away.

“When Rory died we were living in Queens and my daughter Kathleen moved to a school in Manhattan. It was very difficult to live in Queens and be in the same place where Rory grew up, so we moved into the city,” she said.

While she admits life will never be the same without Rory, she finds comfort in being there for other parents who have lost their children to sepsis.

“The life before Rory died and the life after, you can’t compare the two. You just get up every day, you put one foot in front of the other and I think that is the way it is going to be for the rest of my life.

“Being there for other people helps. On the Saturday it happened, I had a picture from a mum who was off to pick up autopsy results after her 17-year-old daughter died. I know it helps to have someone there who has been through a similar experience,” she said.

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition triggered when the body's immune system goes into overdrive to fight an infection. Oftentimes, the condition is undiagnosed and untreated because doctors and those affected fail to recognise the symptoms, which is something Orlaith wants to change.

“I wish I had read an article on sepsis before Rory got sick and I just urge people to tell someone else about it, and for people to educate themselves about the condition.”

You can vote for Orlaith here:

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