Parents’ Strep A heartbreak after mark appeared on late daughter’s leg

The parents of a young girl who died after Strep A took over her body have retold their harrowing story to raise awareness of the condition. Vivienne Murphy, from Millstreet in Co Cork, died on March 1, 2019 just two weeks after her first symptoms. Surgeons in Dublin tried to save her life by removing 17 percent of the child’s body, the grieving parents said.

Recalling how their tragic ordeal began, Vivienne’s father Dermot Murphy said he noticed his little girl was more subdued and less energetic than usual when he picked her up from school on Valentine’s Day 2019.

A few hours later, the 10-year-old started complaining of being unwell and having a sore throat. Mr Murphy recalled how, checking on his daughter, he noticed a rash on her body.

The concerned parents rushed to the out-of-hours GP service where a doctor told them she believed Vivienne had come down with a viral illness.

Two days later, the Murphys got to another doctor after they couldn’t keep Vivienne’s temperature down. The parents heard from a second expert they believed Vivienne had a viral illness, as did the family’s GP, which visited the girl a few days afterwards.

Vivienne’s mother Lilly Murphy recalled being doubtful of the diagnosis, and told RTÉ’s This Week programme: “We said it can’t be, there must be something else, it’s been going on for days.”

Vivienne’s health deteriorated for a further five days after she first started feeling unwell, with the rash getting “really angry looking” and her right leg starting to swell at the knee, Mr Murphy said.

The family got back in touch with the first doctor they had spoken with who, after saying it was still possible she was affected by a flu virus, advised the family to bring their daughter to the emergency room if they were unhappy.

Mrs Murphy said: “Later on that night we carried her up the stairs to her little room, and the two of us were in the room with her and she was just miserable, and we said there something not right let’s just go.”

As the child was unable to stand by herself, Mr Murphy carried her down the stairs and to the car before heading to Cork University Hospital, the Irish Mirror reported.

The nurse examining Vivienne “went into a panic mode” after noticing the unexplained black mark on the child’s leg. After the hospital carried out a blood test, Mrs Murphy recalled being told by the nurse Vivienne was “critically ill”.

The black spot, which had been circled with a marker by one of the doctors at the hospital, was quickly getting larger, Mr Murphy recalled, explaining “we could see it was growing outside of the mark”.

The doctors then told the mark indicated the presence of necrotising fasciitis, a rare bacterial infection that spreads quickly through the body, and meant Vivienne had sepsis and was going into shock.

This disease is sometimes referred to as the “flesh-eating disease” and can cause death. While the Murphys were ready for doctors to amputate Vivienne’s leg if it meant saving her life, the young child could not be operated on in Cork, as the hospital lacked a Paediatric Critical Care Unit in which she would be taken care of after the surgery.

This meant she had to be moved to Temple Street in Dublin – but the transfer was time-consuming. Mrs Murphy recalled: “That took hours. We had to wait for an ambulance to come from Dublin with specialists to look after her. It took ages.”

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As Vivienne’s condition got worse, doctors decided to put her under anaesthetic after allowing her to exchange a few words with her parents.

Mr Murphy recalled the final words his daughter spoke, saying: “She said ‘thank you, nurse, I’m sorry for crying. I know you’re only trying to help me’.

“That was the dignity she had. They were her last words on this planet. She had so much empathy. The world is a sadder place without her.”

As their daughter travelled ahead of them in a specialist ambulance, the parents were informed by the medical team they would have to operate her. At about 11pm that same night, a surgeon in Dublin told “shocking” words to the parents.

Mr Murphy said: “He said I think I have stopped the disease from spreading, but I had to cut away 17 percent of your daughter’s body. When I heard 17 percent… I thought when we were in Cork we would probably have got away with 1%, the black mark, cut it out there. 17 percent is burned into my brain.”

“The disease had gone where we thought it would go, it had gone up her leg, onto her buttocks, across her abdomen, and it had slowly started creeping down her left leg.”

The extent of the operation and the disease the girl had been battling for days caused Vivienne’s heart to stop beating, and she went into cardiac arrest.

Mr Murphy said: “There was an alert put out for us to come quickly to her bedside. We ran into the room. There were six or seven nurses there, doctors, professors. The head professor was there, and they were trying to bring her back, and they’re pumping and pushing and trying hard to save Vivienne and he was really going hard.”

“At one stage he turned to Lilly and me, and said: ‘Parents scream at your daughter, call her back! Call her back! Bring her back!’

“And Lilly started screaming, please come back to us, please come back to us, and it went back a long time, and he said ‘call her – she will know your voice’. And she did come back to us. And we thought wow – we have her.”

However, due to the cardiac arrest, Vivienne suffered brain damage, and doctors informed Mr and Mrs Murphy the child was brain dead.

During what she called the “longest night of our lives”, Mrs Murphy and her husband decided to end Vivienne’s life support to protect her dignity. The last moments of Vivienne’s life were “torture”, Mr Murphy said, as the girl kept fighting.

He said: “The poor little thing kept fighting, it was 35 or 40 minutes, and even then, she came back again. It was torture, on top of torture, on top of torture.

“It was shocking, one day we are begging her to stay alive, the next day we are begging her to die.”

Four years after Vivienne’s death, the parents are now “begging and pleading” parents not to be submissive if they notice fever or rashes on their children.

In a statement to RTE, the Health Service Executive (HSE) said that it wanted to express its deepest sympathy to the Murphy family for the loss of Vivienne but that it could not comment on any individual case.

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