A trip to dentist cost Tom his limbs, half his face and his mind… and now his sepsis horror is being turned into a movie

TOM RAY lay in a coma as his own body attacked vital organs.

His wife Nic, nine months pregnant with their second child, was asked by doctors for permission to remove his limbs and most of his face.

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Family’s ordeal began when Tom’s gum was pricked while he was having a dental checkup


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Sepsis has taken away Tom’s lips, nose, lower arms and lower legs


Remarkable story of survival has been made into a film called Starfish starring Downton’s Joanne Froggatt

A simple prick on the gum by a dentist had taken the couple into a nightmare confrontation with sepsis, a condition that claims 44,000 lives in Britain each year.

Tom’s body had responded dramatically to an infection, and drastic measures were needed to stop the sepsis spreading.

Only after three months of regular operations and numerous emergencies was Tom stable enough to be woken from his coma — but this was just the start of the couple’s battle.

Sepsis had not just taken away Tom’s lips, nose, lower arms and lower legs, it also replaced this once-happy father with a “stranger” cursed by depression.

Their remarkable story of survival has been made into a film called Starfish, starring Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt, and which opens in cinemas on October 28.


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Tom was presented with his son after he woke from a coma


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His daughter said: ‘That’s not my daddy’ when she saw him


Doting dad … With daughter Grace before infection


Wedding day … Tom with wife Nic in 1998

What is sepsis?

SEPSIS, also referred to as blood poisoning or septicaemia, is a reaction to an infection that causes the body to damage its own organs and tissues.

The body’s immune system goes into overdrive.
If not spotted and treated quickly, it can lead to shock, multiple organ failure and death.
It can strike after chest or water infections, problems in the abdomen such as burst ulcers or simple skin injuries including cuts or bites.
Survivors might suffer serious health problems after the illness, including swollen limbs, lethargy, hair loss, insomnia, flashbacks, depression and repeated infections.
Some patients, like Tom, have to undergo amputations.
The condition kills more people in the UK each year than bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined.
With 150,000 cases diagnosed in Britain annually, sepsis costs the NHS £2.93billion each year and almost 35 per cent of patients will die.
Each year around the world there are 18million cases of sepsis, resulting in eight million deaths.
The UK Sepsis Trust estimates earlier identification and treatment could save 14,000 lives a year.

Tom, now 54, told The Sun: “My mind was completely scrambled, I didn’t even know who Nic was.

“She had to reintroduce herself to me and tell me we had a daughter, Grace, and also presented me with our son Freddy. He had been born while I was in the coma.

“She reiterated the story of us getting together. She had to have the conversation with me 20 times so it sank in.

“I remember lying there, looking at the curtailed shapes in the bed and realising the legs didn’t stretch to feet any more.

“Throughout his nine months in a Peterborough hospital, which began in December 1999, Tom’s two year-old daughter refused to see him.

They had previously had a tight bond after Tom gave up his corporate banking job to look after Grace while Nic ran a thriving video production business.

Tom said: “Grace came in and said, ‘That’s not my daddy’. It was horrible. I tried to tempt her in with stories and presents.

“She wouldn’t front up to me. That was understandable, half my face was missing. She was better off out of it.”


Happier times … Dad Tom with Grace on holiday in 1999


On couple’s wedding day just a year before Tom was struck with sepsis

Symptoms to look out for in adults

IT is vital sepsis is spotted as quickly as possible. Here are the symptoms to look out for:

– Slurred speech which is triggered by a lack of blood supply to brain.
– Mottled or discoloured skin can appear anywhere on the body.
– Extreme shivering or muscle pain due to a lack of oxygen.
– Passing no urine over the course of 24 hours as kidneys fail.
– Severe breathlessness when body senses there is not enough oxygen getting to the brain. The illness increases the “drive” to breathe to increase it. May also lead to fast breathing or a fast heartbeat.
– A high temperature.
– Chronic tiredness.
– Change in mental state such as confusion or disorientation.
– Swelling of affected area.

When Tom left hospital, the NHS gave him hooks for hands and stumps for the legs he had lost below the knees.

Nic had to pull him up the stairs when he needed the toilet, he could not breathe through his nose and had no feeling in his lips.

They were forced to sell their beautiful cottage, move in with Nic’s mum and organise charity events to buy electronic hands.

Nic, also 54, gave up her job to become his carer and the realisation of his dependence on others sent Tom into a deep depression.

She said: “There were times I was lying in bed and thought I was married to a total stranger.

“He didn’t smell the same, he didn’t sound the same, he didn’t react the same.”

They bought a new home together in Oakham, Rutland, but Tom’s dark moods got so bad that Nic decided to leave. The strain of the situation made her depressed as well.

What are the symptoms of sepsis to look out for in children?

– Fast breathing.
– “Fits” or convulsions.
– Skin mottled, bluish or pale.
– A rash that does not fade when you press it.
– Extreme lethargy and the child is difficult to wake.
– Is abnormally cold to touch.
– Not feeding and repeated vomiting.
– Has not had a wee or wet nappy for 12 hours.
For more information on the illness visit sepsistrust.org.
If you suspect sepsis in an adult or child call 999 IMMEDIATELY.

Nic said: “I did physically leave with the kids. I couldn’t deal with Tom’s blackness. I wasn’t getting anything back.

“But I thought I couldn’t put the children through any more.”

So she returned and made Tom promise to tackle his problems, which he did with antidepressants.

Tom, who now works in a call centre, said: “I wasn’t given counselling. I had to pay for it and we were flat broke. I was obviously going through post-traumatic stress.

“That’s my excuse and hopefully I have lightened up a little.”

He jokingly asked whether Nic now saw her chance to leave, now that their children were grown up.

But Nic, who married Tom a year and a half before his ordeal, said: “Thankfully, you are a bit better behaved.”

Tom has weened himself off antidepressants but still has occasional panic attacks.

The family now want to raise awareness of sepsis, which is a common medical condition that many people do not recognise.

Earlier this month it was revealed a solicitor died from sepsis after scratching her hand while gardening and being misdiagnosed by medics.

Early detection is key to beating sepsis

DR Ron Daniels BEM, chief executive of the UK Sepsis Trust, says:

“Stories like Tom and Nic’s remind us of the devastating human cost of sepsis.
“Individuals and families have their lives torn apart each day in the UK by this condition, but better awareness could save thousands of lives every year.
“Earlier recognition and treatment of sepsis can also mean hugely improved outcomes for those affected.
“We are delighted the trust’s collaboration with the Department of Health and Public Health England on an awareness campaign will deliver a partial solution to the problems with public recognition of sepsis.
“System-wide improvements to sepsis care must follow and we look forward to further collaboration in future.
“Mandatory education for healthcare professionals and adequate provisions for sepsis survivors are key. But the first step is to ensure earlier identification and treatment.”

More than 150,000 people are treated for sepsis each year, but all too often patients do not realise that what starts out as a flu-like illness is something far worse.

Slurred speech, extreme shivering or muscle pain, not passing urine for a day, breathlessness and mottled or discoloured skin are among the signs.

Tom described “searing pain that goes right down your back and a headache 50 times worse than the worst one you have ever had”.

He said sepsis was not spotted at first, and at one point a rare tropical disease was considered.

Tom was put in a bed in a medical bay and told to get “a good night’s sleep”.

He said: “The extremities of my face, hands and feet were freezing cold.

“Some type of animal instinct in you knows you are departing.

“By the time they realised it was sepsis, I was turning black.”

Nic added: “He had a classic checklist of sepsis but they didn’t spot it.

“Tom was hanging on to me and saying, ‘Don’t leave, I love you’.”

For more information on sepsis visit sepsistrust.org

Mum releases touching video after losing her baby boy to sepsis

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