In May 2016, 18-year-old Katie had what appeared to be a normal virus. A few days later, she had a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop so mum Michelle took her to their local A&E in Salisbury. She was assessed and quickly moved into intensive care as her liver began to weaken. Plans were made to transfer her to King’s College Hospital, but Katie’s condition quickly deteriorated and she had to be sedated before the move. She never regained consciousness.
Staff in King’s Liver Intensive Therapy Unit worked tirelessly to stabilise and protect her but Katie remained in a critical condition for almost two weeks before sadly passing away on 7 June 2016. Katie died from a rare, sudden and very severe illness called ‘acute hemophagocytosis’ which can be triggered by a viral infection similar to that which causes glandular fever. For reasons that are poorly understood, in some young people this viral infection can lead to an abnormal and overactive immune system response that can rapidly result in organ failure and critical illness.
‘It was all very sudden for us to come to terms with and a very tense couple of weeks,’ says Michelle. ‘But the hospital was amazing, and all the staff on that unit were amazing, not just for Katie but for us as well. They were very concerned for our wellbeing – as much as they were for Katie.’
One of the nurses arranged accommodation in the Salvation Army building around the corner from the hospital so Michelle and husband Jared could be close to Katie. ‘Every morning we were there, we were asked, “have you eaten today? Have you slept?”,’ Michelle says. ‘On top of all the other things they needed to think about, and the intensity of their roles, to be thinking about us as well was very generous and kind at such a difficult time.’
Remembering Katie through fundraising
After Katie passed away, family and friends rallied round and asked what they could do to help. Michelle asked them to donate blood – and to donate to King’s. ‘At Katie’s Celebration Day, when we said our goodbyes, we had a collection and raised more than £1,400 each for King’s and the Salvation Army.’
Michelle and friends fundraising through a skydiving challenge
Michelle taking part in the Great South Run. Michelle, Harry, Jared after Great South Run
Friend Ian, who raised money by shaving off his beard
Many people fundraised for King’s in Katie’s memory. Michelle’s friends did a skydive and raised almost £2,000, another friend held a cake sale and Jared’s workplace held a collection. Michelle, Jared and son Harry took part in the Great South Run, Michelle’s mum’s darts league raised money and the couple even received a random £10 in an envelope through the door. Most recently, their friend Ian raised more than £2,000 shaving off his beard.
‘Katie was the most wonderful daughter and we would do anything to bring her back, but for family and friends, they just wanted to do something, to give something back to the hospital.’
This year, Michelle’s sister Kathryn organised a charity golf event in April and the family are planning a gala evening and raffle in October. ‘We’re aiming to get our overall total up from £11,000 to £19,000, because it would have been Katie’s 19th birthday this year.’
Michelle hopes the money will be used to make life better for families in a similar situation to the one they tragically found themselves in.
‘We would like the money to be used to make things a little easier, a little less pressure on the wards,’ Michelle says. ‘What happened to Katie was very rare, and we wouldn’t want anyone else to go through what we went through.’
Katie’s parents have also been raising funds for King’s College Hospital’s Liver Intensive Therapy unit (LITU) in Katie’s memory. The LITU us a unique specialist facility with a worldwide reputation for the care of critically ill patients with liver disease, major injuries and acute liver failure (ALF).
Throughout Katie’s time at King’s she was heavily reliant on blood products. Her friends and family have been raising awareness of this and have collectively encouraged 60+ people to donate so far.
Here are more ways you can celebrate the memory of loved one, just as Katie’s family have, and make a difference at King’s College Hospital.