Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Ciaran wins vital battle after son's avoidable death

Rory Staunton
Rory Staunton

It's a safe bet that anyone familiar with recent efforts to advocate the rights of documented and undocumented Irish immigrants in America has probably heard the name Ciaran Staunton.

A Mayo native and long-time New Yorker, Staunton has spent decades campaigning for US immigration law reforms, as well as for various human rights causes and the peace process.

But for much of the past year, Ciaran has been on a far more personal crusade: to raise awareness of the deadly affliction that killed his 12-year-old son, Rory, and to ensure that hospitals adopt protocols to prevent any more needless toxic sepsis deaths.

By all accounts, Rory was a remarkable 12-year-old, with a keen sense of social justice. He'd met Barack Obama in the White House.

He once lectured an Irish minister with a mining portfolio about the evils of fracking. And he'd even penned a letter to the Swedish ambassador to North Korea, asking why the Asian nation could feed its large army while its populace starved.

On March 28, 2012, Rory cut his elbow playing basketball. An infection soon set in that left him vomiting, with a 102 degree fever, mottled skin, and a pulse rate of 160 – classic signs of a strep infection in his blood.

After his pediatrician misdiagnosed his condition as flu, the Stauntons took him to New York University Medical Center, where he was given anti-nausea medication and sent home.

Within hours, Rory had deteriorated so badly that he was rushed back to the emergency room, where doctors tried in vain to save his life. He died on April 1.

"People, parents, have to be as aware today of sepsis as they are of meningitis," Ciaran Staunton told the Belfast Telegraph.

Sepsis is a toxic response to infection that sees the immune system release chemicals that cause widespread tissue inflammation and can trigger fatal damage to organs.

Some 750,000 Americans are afflicted with sepsis annually. It's the leading cause of death in intensive care units, taking 200,000 lives a year.

After Rory's death, Ciaran and his wife Orlaith created the Rory Staunton Foundation to raise awareness of sepsis and to advocate for the passage of 'Rory's Law'.

On January 29, the Stauntons scored a major victory when New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced that, due in large part to their efforts, the Empire State would "lead the nation" in developing new protocols to combat sepsis.

Announcing 'Rory's Regulations', New York state health commissioner Dr Nirav Shah said: "Early detection of sepsis is a vital tool to treat this potentially life-threatening condition and save lives." Ciaran Staunton hopes to build on this success to raise awareness of sepsis nationally and internationally.

"It is certainly a major step towards saving lives," he said. "This isn't going to help me. It's too late for Rory. But it will help a whole lot of parents, because no parent should have to bury their child. It's unnatural."

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