A light went out the day our beautiful boy left us. Thomas was truly one of nature’s gentlemen, he was quiet, well-mannered and was the calm peacemaker of our family. ‘Snelly’, as he was affectionately known, was very popular among his peers and was known for his contagious laugh and dry sense of humour. He was a loyal friend to many and was considered, among the girls, as the ‘one’ they wanted to marry.
Mature beyond his years, Thomas celebrated some interesting milestones, by the age of eight, he could competently drive the old Toyota on our rural property, before mastering heavy machinery, such as his Dad’s Excavator. Thomas loved all things outdoors, including fishing, snow-skiing and bike riding. He also dearly loved his animals – spending countless hours with his dogs, pigs and his chickens – Blackie and Oprah.
Thomas’s calm and strong personality shone through on the field as a team player, particularly in his chosen sports – cricket, rugby and AFL. He tried his hardest at everything on every level and would give everything a ‘go’. A humble, yet accomplished athlete, he won many Best and Fairest awards in his 13.9 years.
There is a huge hole in our hearts for our dear, kind beautiful boy and we now hold on dearly to treasured memories of our son’s obsession with cricket. In our backyard, Thomas spent countless hours honing his cricket skills, he even fashioned a welded metal wicket keeper wall so that he didn’t have to rely on a mate to be there to practise his bowling. We now spend many hours bowling on Thomas’s beloved cricket pitch that is now his special, sacred resting place. It’s a place that the local kookaburras call home, indeed a therapeutic space where our hearts and souls can connect to Thomas.
Thomas was in Brisbane representing the Northern Territory in the Queensland Rugby Union Junior State Championships, in late June 2017 when he fell ill, one of several in his team to develop influenza A.
One day, Thomas was texting us, asking for some cough lozenges and playing rugby for his under-14 side. The next afternoon, doctors were connecting him to life support, urging us to tell our son that we loved him. Only five hours before driving Thomas to the Lady Cilento hospital, his Dad had taken him to see a GP as he had been vomiting and had diarrhoea overnight, too unwell and lethargic to take the field for that day’s rugby games — unusual for our active boy. The GP sent him home with gastro tablets and he was told to ‘ride it out’.
Back at our hotel, after we noticed Thomas’s breathing was shallow, and his lips and skin had changed colour, we took him to the hospital. Thomas walked in, relying on his Dad’s shoulder for support. He was already in complete organ failure.
Twenty harrowing days later, after being placed on two consecutive ECMO life support machines and a distressing rollercoaster ride in ICU, Thomas had deteriorated to a point that we, together with his medical team, made the traumatic decision to turn off his life support.
Thomas fought very, very hard, but he was too far gone. His lungs were so damaged from pneumonia, and the ongoing and new hospital infections, we had to let him go.
When the time came to turn off his life support machines, Thomas was wheeled outside on his hospital bed and took his last breaths with the warm rays of the setting sun on his face. We were by his side.
Had he survived, Thomas would have required amputation of his hands and legs. His rapid transformation from a healthy teenager to being on life support still haunts our family.
We live with the guilt that we didn’t get him to hospital sooner, why didn’t we know?
As you can imagine, when you lose a child in such tragic circumstances, you naturally ask the question: Why? Why Thomas? Why our family? A mother and father have lost their eldest son and a 12yr old boy has lost his brother and best mate. And while we don’t have the answers to this, we do feel with solid conviction that there is a reason, there must be a legacy which he leaves behind, that there must be a higher purpose for his life and for our lives. Due to the nature of Thomas’s passing, from Sepsis, it seems very clear that this is where part of Thomas’s legacy lies. For a healthy, very fit, sporty young boy to have such a fast twist of fate and cruel end, really raises a lot of questions about this illness called Sepsis. What really astounds us is how common and deadly sepsis is – yet it has virtually no media attention or public profile. Sepsis claims more Australian lives than suicide or the national road toll, but only 4 out of 10 Australians have heard of it.
As grieving parents, we naturally look back in time. Although Thomas’s illness was sudden and it seems there was nothing we could do, it has become increasingly evident, that we were denied the opportunity to act informatively or to actively intervene. The general public are largely unaware of this illness and its symptoms. There is also a knowledge gap across the medical profession; Thomas presented to a GP Clinic at 10am, he was prescribed gastro tablets and sent home to recuperate. Just five hours later he presented to emergency with multiple organ failure and was immediately placed on life support. Surely there must have been some warning signs that could have been detected, had the doctor been aware of the signs and symptoms of Sepsis.
We will never know whether our lack of Sepsis awareness determined Thomas’s fate. From research that is coming to light, Sepsis awareness and early intervention absolutely saves lives. With Sepsis every minute counts. Had we been aware of the signs of Sepsis, or how quickly a common flu can turn deadly, would we have acted differently? Would we have demanded earlier intervention? Would we have acted with conviction on our parental instincts? This is just another cruel torment, the “what ifs” and “should haves and would haves”. This is the reason driving our family to actively and passionately promote Sepsis awareness – to educate both the public and medical profession. We know this knowledge may not have saved Thomas’s life but if it saves the life of one other person – their family is spared a living nightmare that is currently our reality.
We still cannot believe that we lost our precious son to an illness we had never heard of. We do not want any other family to suffer the heartache that we have endured due to lack of Sepsis awareness.
Our family have recently set up an incorporated body called “T for Thomas” this group has been formed primarily to promote Sepsis awareness and we encourage the public to follow our social media campaigns, via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Through our social media presence, we hope to save lives by: urging the public to become educated on the signs of Sepsis, to help spread the word about Sepsis and in the event of a health emergency never be afraid to ask the question – Could it be Sepsis?
Thomas’s mum – Amanda
Thomas’s dad - Phillip