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Mom Has Devastating Warning For Parents After Sepsis Took Her Three-Year-Old Daughter's Life In Less Than Four Hours

Harper and Lori (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)

A heartbroken mom has spoken of her devastation after she took her angelic three-year-old daughter to the hospital and returned home less than four hours later with just a memory box, when deadly sepsis claimed her life.


Harper Aitken was a “feisty, happy" little girl until she woke up with a fever on the morning of March 7 this year – only to die by teatime the following evening.

A simple throat infection had developed into sepsis – a life-threatening reaction to an infection – leaving her parents, waitress Lori Mullen, 34, from Bo'ness, West Lothian, and joiner Andrew Aitken, 41, together with her big brother, Cayden, 12, completely bereft.

Harper (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)

Lori said: “The day she died we took her to see the doctor at 3:45pm and I was home with her memory box by 8:15pm. That's how quick it was.

“I can't put into words what it feels like. I left the hospital with a lock of her hair and never saw her again.

“She woke up with a fever one morning and was dead by teatime the next day. It is not even like she had been ill or had flu. It was a simple strep A infection. It was in her throat. Maybe she inhaled something when she sneezed. We will never know."

Harper and Lori (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)

She continued: “Somehow it ended up in her bloodstream. Her body panicked and that's when the sepsis kicked in.

“She took off her oxygen mask and the last thing she said to me was, 'Mummy I don't like this. I want to go home to Cayden.'

“Her brother did not even get a chance to say goodbye."

Harper and her brother Cayden (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)

Now, Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert, Falkirk, has launched an investigation into Harper's death, after her mother took her to the hospital the day before her death, but was sent home.

Lori, who is now determined to raise awareness of sepsis, in the hope it will help to save lives, said: “The day she died we got to the hospital at 4:30pm and she died at 6:45pm.

“I don't want this to happen to anyone else's child."

Lori, who split up with Harper's dad when she was a baby, said Harper had been fine when she went to bed on Wednesday March 6, but woke with a fever the following morning.

She was sick at around 3pm and developed a rash on her tummy, which would not go away so, fearing she could have meningitis, her mom called an ambulance, which rushed her to the E.R. at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, with a temperature of 41.5 C (106.7 F) – well above the normal range of 36.5 to 37.5C (97.7 to 99.5 F).

Lori explained: “The rash was making me panic. I knew that every minute counted, but she was still responsive."

Harper (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)

Lori explained: “She was drinking lots of water, so the doctors thought it might be a urine infection."

After giving a urine sample, Lori noticed Harper had diarrhea and was concerned about how bad it smelled.

“Harper was sitting up at this point laughing, playing peek-a-boo. Her temperature had come down to 38.5 C (101.3 F) so I took all of that as a good sign."

Harper (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)

She continued: “After a couple of hours and with the rash now fading under a glass, she was sent home. It was thought she had a tummy bug because of the diarrhea.

“When we got home she ate half a packet of crisps and went to bed with me."

But, during the night, Harper was going to the toilet every few hours with diarrhea and had an episode where she appeared to be hallucinating.

Harper (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)

“She was pointing at the ceiling and screaming. She would do it for a couple of minutes. I was reassuring her saying, 'Mummy's here,' and she went back to sleep," said Lori.

“Every couple of hours she had diarrhea and so I still thought it was a bug. She was running to the toilet herself.

“Then the next day she was watching Thomas the Tank Engine. Her personality was still shining through and apart from the diarrhea there were no other signs that something was wrong."

But at 3:30pm Lori and her mom, Harper's grandma Mandy Mullen, 57, noticed the little girl's lips had turned blue and took her to the doctor.

“I phoned the children's ward at the hospital first, but because she had not been admitted the day before they said to go to the GP," said Lori.

“Harper was getting ratty at this point. She was shouting at me and didn't want to wash her hands after going to the toilet."

Harper (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)

“Then, all of sudden, she collapsed in the waiting room. She just flopped in my arms. She felt so heavy," Lori explained.

Rushed into the doctor's surgery, Harper sat back up and her temperature began to fall, before she flopped forward again, her eyes started rolling and her bowels opened.

When the doctor saw that her back was covered in a red rash, an ambulance was called and she was given a shot of penicillin.

Harper (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)

“She was still awake, lying there watching everything. She never cried or said she was scared or anything," Lori recalled.

“She was taken straight into a resuscitation room, where they managed to stabilize her blood sugar levels. Then she was taken into theatre.

“She deteriorated so quickly. They asked if they could drill into her leg to put fluids and antibiotics straight through the bone, because her veins had collapsed. I said, 'Do anything you can to save her.'"

“I felt complete disbelief. I could not believe this was happening in front of me. It was like a film," she said.

“She took her oxygen mask off and said, 'Mummy I don't like this. I want to go home to Cayden.'

“I said, 'It's okay put your mask back on,' and she rolled her eyes at me, before putting it back on and simply saying, 'OK.'"

Harper and dad Andrew (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)

Noticing a black rash on Harper's arm, Lori asked the medics if it was sepsis and was told her daughter was very ill.

By this point a specialist team had arrived from Glasgow to put her into an induced coma.

“I said to my mum, 'She's not coming out of this.' I just knew, again it was like mother's instinct, I just knew," Lori recalled.

Harper (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)

“Just as I said that a doctor came out and told me she had rejected the tubes and her heart had stopped beating," she continued.

“We were all told go in for the resuscitation. Her dad and I went in. They tried so hard to save her. They tried for 45 minutes.

“But the sepsis had spread. I could see the black rash was now on her face. I'm having counseling because of seeing that."

Harper (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)

At 6:45pm the adorable three-year-old was pronounced dead with the doctor confirming the cause of death as sepsis when she brought Harper's pajamas back to her mom.

Lori said the doctors removed Harper's tubes and sent them away for testing. A couple of days later, they came back showing she had a simple strep A infection.

A post-mortem was carried out and they expect to get the results in September.

Hundreds of people came to her funeral, which was held on March 25 at the Falkirk Crematorium and raised £1,400 (~$1,680) for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which helps to make children's wishes come true.

Lori, who has set up a memorial for Harper in the garden with a bench and a large Cinderella planter, said: “Now most days I'm on autopilot. I find it worst at night because of the silence. When Harper was in the house she would be loud, running about and playing, so the silence really hits me. I just take each day as it comes and try my best to get through it.

“Harper was a feisty little character. She loved animals – all creatures even insects – and she loved being outdoors. She had a guinea pig, a dog and a cat."

Harper (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)

Lori recalled: “She loved going to nursery. She had lots of friends and she loved her big brother.

“She was really cheeky. If she did not want to do something, she would not do it. Right up until her last breath, she was so single-minded and would shout at me if she wasn't happy about something. It was like she was 13 rather than three.

“She would go off in a huff, then three minutes later come back and be full of love. She really kept me on my toes."

Harper (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)

She said: “She was a huge Ed Sheeran fan. She would only listen to his music in the car, and he was played at her funeral. His music means so much to us now, as it reminds us of her."

Now Lori is determined to raise awareness of sepsis, so her precious daughter's death was not in vain, and is raising money for The Sepsis Trust.

She explained: “Everybody presents differently with sepsis. Not all the signs are the same. Harper was seriously thirsty and was still going to the toilet and that is not on the symptom posters."

“Her temperature had gone up, but just before she died it went down again. It is like it tricks you," she said.

“With children they seem to be fine until it is too late. Sepsis is such a cruel thing. My daughter did not even cry.

“I take comfort from the fact that she did not suffer. It was so rapid and I'm so glad she was not in pain."

Harper and her brother Cayden (PA REAL LIFE/COLLECT)

Lori added: “Raising awareness is a way of making sure her death is not in vain. I want to keep talking about Harper and I do not want her to be forgotten."

A spokesperson for NHS Forth Valley said: “We are carrying out a full internal review into the care and treatment provided to this little girl and will share any learning with local staff and the child's family.

“NHS Forth Valley supports the Scottish Patient Safety Programme which aims to improve the identification and treatment of sepsis amongst a wide range of healthcare professionals."

To support the family visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/karen-aitken3 and www.facebook.com/Harpers-Legacy-2621026587922227

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