WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT - Oliver Aisthorpe smiles as though he doesn't have a care in the world – but just six weeks ago he lost all four of his limbs as he lay in hospital battling deadly sepsis.
The 11-month-old tot has made a miraculous recovery after doctors warned mum Abigail Wardle, 23, that her son wasn't going to pull through.
And even after beating the infection, Abigail, from Cleethorpes on England’s east coast, had to endure the horror of Oliver's leg self-amputating and coming away in her hand as she held him in his hospital bed.
But now, just a few weeks on, Oliver is back home and making an incredible recovery – and medics even hope he could have his first prosthetic legs fitted in a few months.
Courageous Abigail has chosen to speak out about their sepsis hell in a bid to help other parents learn how to spot the signs of the killer bug that little Oliver caught through an undiagnosed throat infection.
"Some people might feel sorry for us but I feel like the luckiest mum in the world. I still have Oliver with us. He might not have any hands or feet, but he is still my smiley, brave little boy,” jewellery designer Abigail said.
"What we went through was horrendous and I had never been so scared in my life.
"But Oliver was so brave that I knew I had to be brave too. I am his mum and it's my job to fight for him and make him feel safe.
"He went from laughing and giggling to death's door within 48 hours and nobody knew what was wrong with him.”
From giggling baby to life at risk
Abigail first took her son to an out-of-hours GP on March 16 when she noticed his soft spot appeared to be sunken and she worried he was dehydrated.
But she says a GP sent her home and told her to give him fluids and Calpol – a popular children’s medicine in the UK.
But by the next day, he had deteriorated and Abigail again took Oliver to see a GP.
When he arrived at the hospital, a nurse took one look at him and rushed him to a resuscitation area, where a team of doctors began battling to save his life.
“I knew he was not well and he needed to see a doctor but I didn’t have a clue that he could have had sepsis,” Abigail said after noticing he was under the weather.
"My gut said he wasn't right so I took him back to the out-of-hours GP and within minutes, a nurse had whisked him off and he was being put under anaesthetic.
"Everything was a blur. I still had no idea what was wrong with Oliver, I was just trying to hold it together as they were putting him to sleep.
"His hand and feet had started to go purple, and I just remember thinking he must be cold and telling them to put some socks on him.
"A doctor sat us down and said: 'Your son is very poorly.’ I just thought, I know that, he's in a coma and hooked up to a load of machines, but I had no idea how ill he was.
"It was only when a nurse came over to speak to us and burst into tears that I realised how serious is was.
"She told us: 'We don't know which way it's going to go but it doesn't look good.'"
Doctors discovered the sepsis had developed from an undiagnosed throat infection, which Oliver had never shown any symptoms of.
They managed to stabilise Oliver but warned Abigail if he deteriorated they would not be able to save him.
She and Oliver's dad were told twice he was not going to survive and they asked the hospital chaplain to baptise Oliver.
But incredibly the little boy pulled through and survived with no damage to his brain, but the sepsis has caused both hands and his legs to turn black and effectively die off.
Limbs began falling off
Medics battled to save length in Oliver's leg, but mum Abigail begged them to speed the operation along because she could see the leg self-amputating.
"Oliver was out of the woods but they kept delaying a date for his amputations to try to save more of his leg – but I could see his body was trying to get rid of it.”
Abigail said her son’s pain became so bad she wished his limbs could be removed.
"One day, a nurse was helping me lift Oliver from his bouncy chair back into the bed and his leg just came away.
"The doctors came running in and asked me if I wanted to leave the room because it was quite distressing.
"I told them: 'My son's leg has just fallen off and is hanging on by a thread, I am not going to leave him here.'
"Once he had his limbs removed, he was like a different child – so happy and full of life, it seemed like a relief for him."
Last month, Oliver was discharged from hospital and is now getting used to life without his limbs.
"I am just so proud of Oliver,” Abigail added.
"He has taken everything in his stride and is just so incredibly resilient. He makes me smile every day.
"Already, he is trying to work out how to roll over and play with his toys with his stumps.
"It has happened and we just have to get on with it, but seeing his beaming face every day is enough to keep me going.
"I want his story to be used to help spread awareness and teach other parents and GPs who maybe don't have specialist paediatric training about the signs of sepsis.”
Sepsis awareness needed
Dr Ron Daniels, CEO of the UK Sepsis Trust, said Oliver’s case was a poignant reminder to the dangers of sepsis.
"Oliver’s case reminds us that sepsis can strike at any age, with often devastating consequences,” he said.
“Sepsis is a notoriously difficult condition to spot and to do so relies upon health professionals being alert to the possibility of sepsis in any patient who is deteriorating without a clear cause.”
Dr Daniels said Oliver’s case was particularly rare after his limbs “underwent auto-amputation”.
"Outcomes like Oliver’s can be prevented through better awareness of sepsis and by empowering our public to just ask: ‘Could it be sepsis?’.”
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