A trip to the dentist cost me my arms, legs and half my face

A trip to the dentist cost me my arms, legs and half my face

Originally published on The Sun

Dental check-ups are routine for most of us - and for Tom Ray that should've been no different.

But after a regular appointment in 1999, the 38-year-old fit and healthy dad's life changed forever.

Little did he know, a tiny cut in his gum had triggered deadly sepsis, which left him with in a coma for three months.

When he woke up, both his arms and legs had been amputated and part of his face removed - and his wife had given birth to his second child.

The dad-of-two, from Rutland, East Mids, says  the "classic signs" were missed before his condition rapidly deteriorated.

Tom, now 57, will tell the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) today that better training in spotting the tell-tall signs could avoid further tragedies.

His speech comes on the same day as a damning report into how the disease is too often missed by medical professionals.

'I didn't recognise my wife'

Tom spent three months in a coma in 1999 and when he came round, he didn't recognise his wife Nicola, who had given birth to their second child Fred.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "I had visited the dentist a few days before and they nicked my gum with one of those sharp instruments they use to scrap tartar away.

"It coincided with a bout of flu and that's how I believe it was contracted."

Tom said he first went to his local GP before being admitted to A&E.

But this was followed by a 10-hour delay, while medics considered the different possibilities - the last one being sepsis, he said.

He continued: "The real problem is the delay in getting blood test results back. That took many, many hours.

"By the time they were returned showing clear sepsis, it was far too late. Sepsis will kill you within a few hours.

What is sepsis?

SEPSIS, also referred to as blood poisoning or septicaemia, is a reaction to an infection that causes the body to damage its own organs and tissues.

The body’s immune system goes into overdrive.

If not spotted and treated quickly, it can lead to shock, multiple organ failure and death.

It can strike after chest or water infections, problems in the abdomen such as burst ulcers or simple skin injuries including cuts or bites.

Survivors might suffer serious health problems after the illness, including swollen limbs, lethargy, hair loss, insomnia, flashbacks, depression and repeated infections.

Some patients, like Tom, have to undergo amputations.

The condition kills more people in the UK each year than bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined.

With 150,000 cases diagnosed in Britain annually, sepsis costs the NHS £2.93billion each year and almost 35 per cent of patients will die.

Each year around the world there are 18million cases of sepsis, resulting in eight million deaths.

The UK Sepsis Trust estimates earlier identification and treatment could save 14,000 lives a year.

"When I surfaced from months in an induced coma I couldn't remember anything about my past life.

"There was a beautiful woman sitting next to me with a newborn baby and she introduced herself to me as my wife.

"Everything had disappeared from my memory and I had to relearn everything about my past."

Life-changing illness

Nicola had to explain to him that they had a two-year-old daughter named Grace and he had given up his corporate banking job to care for her, while she ran a thriving video production business.

But when Grace first went to see him in hospital, she didn't recognise him.

Speaking previously to the Sun, Tom said: “Grace came in and said, ‘That’s not my daddy’. It was horrible. I tried to tempt her in with stories and presents.

“She wouldn’t front up to me. That was understandable, half my face was missing."

Symptoms to look out for in adults

IT is vital sepsis is spotted as quickly as possible. Here are the symptoms to look out for:

It is vital sepsis is spotted as quickly as possible. Here are the symptoms to look out for:

  • Slurred speech which is triggered by a lack of blood supply to brain.

  • Mottled or discoloured skin can appear anywhere on the body.

  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain due to a lack of oxygen.

  • Passing no urine over the course of 24 hours as kidneys fail.

  • Severe breathlessness when body senses there is not enough oxygen getting to the brain. The illness increases the “drive” to breathe to increase it. May also lead to fast breathing or a fast heartbeat.

  • A high temperature.

  • Chronic tiredness.

  • Change in mental state such as confusion or disorientation.

  • Swelling of affected area.

Nicola gave up her job to care for Tom, who was learning to use prosthetics but was also suffering from deep depression.

They were also forced to sell their home and move in with Nicola's mum because of his illness.

Their remarkable story of survival was made into a film called Starfish, starring Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt, in 2016.

But they don't want to see other couples go through the same ordeal and are calling for mandatory training for anyone in the medical profession so that tell-tale signs don't get missed.

Tom said: "Porters, receptionists, nurses, especially at GP surgeries - all of the staff need to be involved in this.

"Sepsis patients are equivalent to human beings on fire, and the fire needs to be put out and just as you'd treat an emergency situation with the fire service, it's that fast.

"Everybody, the whole team, need to be involved. That's why we're encouraging everyone to ask the question, 'could it be sepsis'."

Tom, now a call centre worker, spends a lot of his time doing motivational speaking and campaigning to improve the way the NHS tackles sepsis.

He will address the RCN annual conference in Liverpool today along with former nurse and NHS chief executive Pippa Bagnall.

She said: "Investment in nursing staff education shouldn't be seen as a cost - it's an investment that everyone benefits from.

"Two hours of training for each nursing professional could massively reduce the £15 billion cost of sepsis to the NHS."

Learn the tell-tale sepsis signs and symptoms

Sepsis, or blood poisoning, is a serious complication of an infection, and claims 50,000 lives in Britain each year.

Thousands more who survive the illness are left with disabilities and life-changing consequences.

It's important to know the symptoms to look out for.

The early symptoms can include a high temperature, shivering, a fast heartbeat, changes to your breathing or feeling different to normal.

In more severe cases, blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level and according to the NHS, further symptoms can include:

  • Feeling dizzy or faint

  • A change in mental state, such as confusion or disorientation

  • Diarrhoea

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Slurred speech

  • Severe muscle pain

  • Severe breathlessness

  • Less urine production than normal – for example, not urinating for a day

  • Cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin

  • Loss of consciousness

It's also vital to know the signs to look out for in children - as up to 4,000 under-fives die every year from the condition.

Go straight to A&E or call 999 if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • Looks mottled, bluish or pale

  • Very lethargic or difficult to wake

  • Feels abnormally cold to touch

  • Breathing is very fast

  • A rash that does not fade when you press it

  • A fit or convulsion

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