ONE year ago, Craig Stobo was looking forward to the birth of his second child with wife and best friend Fiona.
Fiona had just been for an antenatal scan which showed all was well, and their son, Robert, would soon have a little sister to play with at their Marchmont home.
In the space of a few days, however, Craig’s life would change forever, in the most tragic of ways.
Today, he is a single dad to a three-year-old boy after a common but often misunderstood disease caused a chain reaction of personal tragedies that sent him spiralling into a “particularly horrible form of hell”.
Sepsis, which claims 37,000 lives in the United Kingdom every year, left Craig critically ill after Fiona, a GP, insisted he seek medical help after becoming concerned at his symptoms.
Tragically, she was to be struck down by the same condition within hours, and while her talent as a doctor is likely to have saved her husband, it was not enough to save her own life or that of her unborn child, Isla.
Craig, 43, who made a full recovery from the illness, has been left to make sense of what happened and pick up the pieces for the sake of his young son.
But while he may be focusing on the future, he is determined to continue the legacy of Fiona, who passed away aged just 38, when she was 35 weeks pregnant.
A charity in her name, the Fiona Elizabeth Agnew Trust (FEAT), has been set up and following a launch last month, thousands of pounds have already poured in.
And Craig is set to take part in his own fundraising effort, when he and four of Fiona’s friends take the plunge into Loch Lomond for the Great Scottish Swim on August 24 – exactly a year after his wife was admitted to hospital.
He says he is determined to raise the profile of sepsis, while also promoting research and offering the information that was sorely lacking when his life was turned upside down by the condition.
Recalling the days last August when his life changed forever, he says: “I became ill first of all. Fiona recognised something was amiss and made sure I went to my GP.
“While still in hospital I was told she was really ill herself, and because she was pregnant her immune system was compromised.
“I was in the Western, I’d been there for just over a day when I got the call you never want and I knew something seriously wrong had happened. Fiona was very ill and the baby had passed away. It was profoundly shocking and part of a spiral of events that just got worse and worse.”
Although still seriously ill, Craig was taken from the Western General to Forth Valley Royal Hospital to be with Fiona, a Bo’ness GP, as her condition was getting progressively worse.
Doctors battled constantly to save her, but she passed away in the early hours of Sunday, August 26, from multiple organ failure caused by sepsis.
The previous Thursday, she had been told that she and her baby were both in good health following a scan.
“It was bewildering, although that probably isn’t a strong enough word,” Craig says.
“I just didn’t understand what was happening and why. I kept feeling like things couldn’t get any worse, but they did. It was a spiral downwards into a particularly horrible form of hell.
“That week, everything had been fine and suddenly half of my family has been wiped out. All I could think was ‘what’s happened?’”
In a bid to understand the catastrophe to hit his family, Craig began to research sepsis, which occurs when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs.
The more he delved in to the condition, the more he realised how little it was understood yet how common it was.
He says setting up a charity was “almost a reflex reaction” in the aftermath of the tragedy.
“Fiona wanted to be a doctor from being very young, so hopefully it’s a way of carrying that on and helping thousands of others who will be affected.
“It’s about trying to address it and doing something positive.
“Sepsis is almost a silent epidemic. If a disease was discovered now that started killing this number of people, it would be all over the press – no doubt with apocalyptic headlines – but sepsis hardly has any attention.
“I discovered there wasn’t even a Scottish charity.”
Craig is now encouraging members of the public to carry out “feats for FEAT”, with the charity hoping to fund research into treatment.
A website, full of easily-accessible information is already up and running.
While Craig, who works for PricewaterhouseCoopers, suffers no side effects following his encounter with sepsis, many others do and he hopes FEAT will offer invaluable support to those still living with the aftereffects.
He will complete the Great Scottish Swim, which is expected to attract 2000 people, alongside Stuart Brodie, Fiona Begg and Emma and Bob Lunan, friends of Fiona and some of whom are trustees of FEAT.
And it is likely to be one in a huge series of events in coming years, with Craig harbouring ambitious plans for the new charity which he is determined will ensure others do not endure the same ordeal he was forced to go through as a result of sepsis.
“Effectively rather than trying to rebuild anything from the past, I’ve started again from scratch,” he adds.
“When something terrible happens, you’ve just got to get on with it.
“It’s like the Churchill saying, ‘if you’re going through hell, keep going’. You don’t stop and have a chat.
“It’s difficult, but it’s what Fiona would have expected me to do.
“I’ve got to look after Robert first and foremost, that helps.
“I’m very lucky to be alive because I was so ill, even if this wasn’t the life I would have chosen to come back to.”
MORE CASUALTIES THAN LUNG CANCER
Sepsis claims more than 37,000 lives in the UK annually – more than lung cancer, and more than breast cancer and bowel cancer combined. Research shows early recognition and intervention may save as many as 15,000 lives annually.
Considered a medical emergency
Sepsis is a life-threatening illness caused by the body overreacting to an infection.
The body’s immune system goes into overdrive, setting off a series of reactions that can lead to widespread inflammation (swelling) and blood clotting.
Symptoms usually develop quickly and include a fever or high temperature, chills, a fast heartbeat and fast breathing.
The symptoms are so common that sepsis, also sometimes called blood poisoning or septicaemia, can often be misdiagnosed in its early stages.
Although anybody can develop sepsis from a minor infection, some people are more vulnerable.
Those with an existing condition, the very young and old and those who have just had surgery are most at risk.
If sepsis is detected early and has not yet affected vital organs, it may be possible to treat the infection at home with antibiotics. Most people with uncomplicated sepsis make a full recovery.
Severe sepsis and septic shock are considered
medical emergencies and normally require immediate admission to an intensive care unit, where the body’s organs can be supported while the infection is
Because of problems with vital organs, people with severe sepsis are likely to be very ill, and approximately 30-50 per cent will die as a result of the condition.
It is believed that the number of cases of severe sepsis is on the rise.
Patients cost NHS £2.5bn
According to the UK Sepsis Trust – http://sepsistrust.org/ – patients with sepsis occupy
more than 30 per cent of intensive care beds in the UK, costing
the National Health Service more than £2.5 billion every year.