Peterborough mum’s fight for life after lethal infection

Charlotte and her family in hospital
Charlotte and her family in hospital
Have your say

A mum who was ‘left at death’s door’ after contracting sepsis when she gave birth to her daughter has warned other mums about the dangers of the condition - and called for changes to be made in the way hospitals deal with it.

Charlotte Pennells (28), was left in a coma for a week after she gave birth to daughter Darcey in January last year.

Charlotte on the road to recovery

Charlotte on the road to recovery

Charlotte, from Market Deeping, left Peterborough City Hospital in agony after the birth, after a potentially deadly infection was not diagnosed.

She returned to hospital the following day, when she was unable to get out of bed - even to go to the toilet or lift her new baby because of the pain.

Charlotte - who has four other children, said: “I gave birth to Darcey on Saturday, January 27, 2018.

“After the birth I was in agony, with stomach pain, and I lost a lot of blood. I had high blood pressure, but I was told it was just after pains.

Sepsis victim Charlotte Pennells from Deeping st James with her one year-old daughter Darcey Pennells-Merrill ,  daughter Honey Pennells-Merrill (2) and husband Phil Merrill EMN-190129-125400009

Sepsis victim Charlotte Pennells from Deeping st James with her one year-old daughter Darcey Pennells-Merrill , daughter Honey Pennells-Merrill (2) and husband Phil Merrill EMN-190129-125400009

“I was offered a blood transfusion - but was not given any explanation. It was like I was being offered sweets.

“I was put on painkillers - but my stomach was still hurting so much. I was in agony.

“My partner Phil (Merrill) said I was very pale to look at.

“The next day two doctors came in to talk about the pain, and offered me a blood transfusion - but I was in so much pain, I said no.

“I couldn’t even pick up my daughter, I was in so much pain.

“I went home on Sunday, and on Tuesday morning I just couldn’t move, not even to go to the bathroom.

“Phil called for an ambulance, and they came upstairs and gave me gas and air - but it didn’t do anything.

“I was given morphine in the ambulance, and taken to the high dependency unit.

“As soon as I got to hospital, a midwife said they could see something was not right.

“They discovered my womb was riddled with infection.”

When she went back to the hospital, it was discovered she had sepsis - a complication following infection - Strep A - a type of bacteria - and ‘multi organ failure’.

Charlotte said: “I was taken to Papworth Hospital and put on an ECMO machine (a machine which pumps blood around the body giving the heart and lungs a rest).

“I was in a coma for a week while I was treated.

“Staying on that machine saved my life. I was told I could have died, it was that serious.

“I was at death’s door.”

After a spell at Papworth, Charlotte was then taken to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, where she was diagnosed with critical illness neuropathy - a condition affecting her nerves.

While in hospital, she was also given an emergency hysterectomy.

She said: “I was paralysed, effectively. I could not move, I could not walk.”

To help her recover, Charlotte went to Lincoln Hospital for treatment on the neuro rehabilitation ward.

She said: “I have been working so hard to get back on my feet.

“A year on, I can just about walk around the house unaided - I am a bit like a toddler in the way I walk.

“But if I go out I still need a frame.

“I am still fighting to get my mobility back.”

Charlotte was in hospital for weeks on end as she first fought for her life, and then started her recovery, but she was full of praise for her family who helped her in her recovery.

Along with Darcey - who celebrated her first birthday at the weekend - Charlotte is mum to McKenzie (11), Phoebe (8), Perry (5) and Honey (2).

Charlotte is also planning her wedding to partner Phil, which will take place later this year.

She said: “I was in hospital for four months, from the end of January until the end of May - I effectively missed the start of my baby’s life while I was here.

“Honey, my second youngest, has now turned two, but I struggled to pick her up.

“My other children are all at school, and it has been very difficult for them.

“Phil runs his own paving business, but because of the stress, and my condition he has not been able to go back to work.”

Charlotte is still receiving rehabilitation, with one neuro physiotherapist coming to her house, and more physiotherapy at Stamford Hospital.

Empire Gym in Market Deeping has also offered Charlotte and her fiancé Phil free membership, and she attends the St George’s Hydrotherapy Pool in Peterborough.

Now Charlotte has urged other mums to be aware of the symptoms - to prevent others falling victim.

She said: “It is so important people know what the symptoms are. I could have died as a result of what happened to me.

“You always think this sort of thing happens to other people, that it’ll never happen to you, but it can.”

She also called for hospitals to take more care when diagnosing new mums who are suffering pain.

She said: “I was told because Darcey was my fifth, that the pain could be worse.

“But I knew something was wrong. I was offered a blood transfusion, but was given no explanation, and no-one discussed sepsis with me.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I have- it is so important.

“I was lucky I had Phil - otherwise no-one would have been able to call for help. Other people don’t always have someone.”

Fran Stephens, head of Midwifery at North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Peterborough City Hospital, Hinchingbrooke Hospital and Stamford Hospital, said they were focusing on sepsis in the maternity unit.

She said: “We concluded an extensive review of the care received by Charlotte Pennells in July 2018 and met with her to discuss our findings.

“It would not be appropriate to go into detail about her specific case, but I would like to provide absolute assurance that our maternity teams are focused upon sepsis recognition, treatment and prevention, in line with recent national guidance.

“This is also a top priority for the Trust as a whole.”