Mum urges doctors to learn from son Reuben Harvey-Smith to support young amputees
PUBLISHED: 18:13 22 August 2016 | UPDATED: 18:35 22 August 2016
A Suffolk mum whose three-year-old son who had to have both legs and most of his fingers amputated after doctors misdiagnosed a life-threatening infection, has called for more support for amputees and a culture change in the way his condition is diagnosed.
Doctors believed Reuben Harvey-Smith had been suffering from tonsillitis in July last year, when he had actually picked up toxic shock syndrome (sepsis) as a result of a burn – an infection in which poisonous toxins are released into the bloodstream.
Not convinced by their diagnosis, mum Louise Harvey-Smith got a second opinion from the burns unit at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where staff immediately spotted the signs of the infection, but were too late to save his legs and some of his fingers, which had to be amputated as a result of the infection.
Now, after a wave of public support for the Spider-Man-loving youngster, from Chelmondiston, Ms Harvey-Smith has called for a culture change.
“All the guidelines are there, and with the problems with Reuben if they followed them he would have got the treatment at the time,” the 41-year-old said.
“What we are doing now is saying it should be about ruling it out instead of ruling it in. If it is picked up early enough antibiotics mean it can be treated.”
Ipswich Hospital admitted liability and has made an apology to the family, while also compensating the family fully.
The hospital added: “We are now working with the family to ensure that lessons are learnt from Reuben’s case and further training has been provided to A&E staff on recognising the warning signs of septic shock syndrome.
“The trust are committed to ensuring that Reuben is appropriately compensated so that he has the care, prostheses and equipment that he needs throughout his life. Some funds have already been allocated for Reuben’s immediate needs whilst the parties work towards settlement of the claim.”
The payout means that care for Reuben has been sorted – including for replacement legs which cost £6,000 a time and are needed at least twice a year to account for his growing body. But now Ms Harvey-Smith wants to help child amputees access artificial limbs they can use to run around and play in, instead of standard issue NHS prosthetics.
“Two weeks ago they were feeling uncomfortable for him and because they were round he couldn’t run or play in the playground,” she said.
“There’s nothing for kids being able to run, and to see your child take his legs off because they hurt, I have no words for that.”
Around 200 double-amputees are treated by the NHS each year, and Ms Harvey-Smith wants to establish a charity with a fundraising arm to help provide better prosthetics that can help amputees continue to lead an active lifestyle.
The family has also filmed a video helping health professionals recognise the signs of sepsis earlier.
And while watching Reuben cope has been difficult at times, the youngster’s unwavering spirit has helped Ms Harvey-Smith through.
“Part of me thinks I don’t know how we cope, and there’s times where it is hard to watch him, but if I am struggling I only have to see him smile or say something cheeky and I know it is ok.”