A heartbroken dad who lost his 16-year-old daughter to sepsis says it is “scandalous” that specialist machines to treat the condition are not available in Wales.
Lucy Ellis, a gifted gymnast with an identical twin sister called Sophie, died on Tuesday, May 15, after her health deteriorated rapidly.
The schoolgirl initially complained of flu-like symptoms and breathing difficulties, and visited her GP who immediately referred her to the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport.
When she arrived she was given multiple antibiotics, blood tests, X-rays and a CT scan which showed fluid around her heart.
Doctors diagnosed the teenager with sepsis – a condition triggered by an infection or injury that causes the body to attack tissues and organs – and warned the family that she was gravely unwell.
In a last-ditch attempt to save her, a team from the Royal Brompton Hospital in London were called in via helicopter with a specialist piece of equipment to filter her blood – but it was too late.
Lucy Ellis, from Bassaleg, Newport, died of sepsis at the age of 16
Her father Neil Ellis has now set up the Lucy Ellis Foundation which aims to ensure hospitals in Wales have access to a specialist blood machine called an ECMO.
The foundation also wants to raise awareness of the danger signs and symptoms leading up to the onset of sepsis which can claim patients’ lives within hours.
“Lucy was a special girl that has touched many people’s lives in the short time of her life,” said Neil.
“She was the most athletic person I knew, and seeing her progress was amazing.
“I’ll never forget a conversation we at an international gymnastics competition in Turin last year.
“She said she wanted to leave this life knowing she had made a difference. Little did she and the family know this difference would be in her death.”
Lucy, who had dreams of becoming a doctor, was described by her teachers in Bassaleg School as an “absolute credit” to the school who flourished in acrobatic gymnastics in particular.
Lucy was a talented gymnast
A statement from the school read: “She was a young woman who was everything you could hope for in a student. It’s a privilege for us to have played a part in her life and we are forever changed for the better for having known her.”
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Neil, from Bassaleg, Newport, said it was “unbelievable” that no hospital in Wales had access to an ECMO machine.
He said it took two hours to fly the machine and specialists to the Royal Gwent, by which time Lucy was receiving CPR.
He added: “Believe it or not this machine is manufactured in Swansea, but there isn’t a single hospital in Wales that has one at hand or has a team to make this treatment possible.”
According to latest figures, recorded cases of sepsis are on the rise in Wales.
In 2016-17, hospitals recorded a combined 12,589 sepsis cases compared to 11,457 in 2014-15 – an increase of 10%.
But the Welsh Government says death rates from the condition are deteriorating due to an increase in awareness from medical staff.
Sepsis research is currently being undertaken at three of the Health and Care Research Wales’ centre and units.
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “Wales’ efforts to improve the prevention, diagnosis and early treatment of sepsis have received international recognition.
“We were the first country in the world to implement a system to ensure early escalation of patients seen to be deteriorating and recent figures suggest the mortality figures associated with sepsis have decreased.
“Welsh patients receive ECMO treatment at Glenfield, Leicester, one of only four highly specialised centres in the UK providing ECMO for adults.
“Currently there are not enough patients in Wales requiring ECMO per year to make a centre in Wales practicable.”
If you would like to donate to the Lucy Ellis Foundation please go to https://lucyellis.love/