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Man whose wife and unborn daughter died from sepsis sets up charity

A man who lost his wife and unborn child to sepsis has set up a charity to raise awareness of the illness which claims about 37,000 lives in the UK every year.

GP Fiona Agnew was 35 weeks pregnant when she developed symptoms and her daughter Isla was stillborn. Doctors could not save the 38-year-old mother and she died at Forth Valley Hospital in Larbert, Falkirk a few hours later.

Craig Stobo, a tax manager, said he hopes that money raised by Feat (Fiona Elizabeth Agnew Trust) will fund research into the relatively common but unrecognised illness.

Sepsis is when the body's response to an infection causes shock and multiple organ failure, often leading to death. The most common examples of infection that trigger sepsis are pneumonia, urinary tract infections and meningitis.

Mr Stobo, 43, fell ill at the same time as his wife in August last year, although the source of infection has not been established. He has recovered and is father to the couple's child Robert.

"While I was being treated with intravenous antibiotics in the acute ward of the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, I learned that Fiona had also fallen ill.

"It turned out she had succumbed to the same condition, and was seriously ill in Forth Valley Hospital in Larbert. Unfortunately, her symptoms advanced much quicker and her system was compromised due to her pregnancy.

"Isla was stillborn and a few hours later, despite the latest medical techniques, machines and antibiotics, Fiona died of sepsis and septic shock."

Cases of sepsis have risen in number by around 13% every year since 2003. The condition kills more people in the UK than lung cancer.

Feat has been set up with the support of Fiona's medical colleagues including paediatric specialist Colin Begg who says early detection is key to avoiding sepsis deaths.

"Early detection and treatment of sepsis before it cascades out of control is the only way to improve survival rates," said Dr Begg who works at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow.

"A study has shown that the risk of death from sepsis increases by almost 8% with every hour before treatment is started. And of those who have severe sepsis, the mortality rate is over 40%. This figure is too high."

Mr Stobo says he owes his survival to his late wife.

"I felt fine when I woke in the morning but only a few hours later I was at my desk feeling very cold and shivery, and by mid-afternoon I had a severe headache, nausea and a temperature.

"Fiona called me on her way to a 35-week scan and instinctively recognised that my symptoms weren't just the flu or a virus. She encouraged me to see my GP and get admitted to hospital and I have no doubt that without her early intervention, I wouldn't be here today.

"Awareness of sepsis is still very low and is certainly not on a level with other diseases such as meningitis, heart disease or cancer. But this can change.

"Over the last 40 years, campaigns to improve awareness of symptoms, funding and medical research has had a dramatic difference on early detection, treatment and survival rates for these diseases. I believe that through Feat, we can achieve the same success with sepsis."

More information about Feat can be found at stopsepsis.org.uk and justgiving.com/feat.

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