A 4-Year-Old Developed Sepsis After Shopping For Shoes Without Socks - This Is What The Doctors Think

While most people are very cautious about trying on undergarments, swimsuits, and such from store shelves, not many have the same proactive approach when it comes to something less intimate, such as shoes.

How many times have you brought your child into a store and tried on shoe after shoe without ever considering the feet who’ve been there before your child? This toddler’s medical nightmare might have you rethink how you shop for shoes and being more on guard for risks like infection and sepsis.

Meet Sienna Rasul

Sienna is a four-year-old girl from Aberfan, South Wales who went shopping with her mom for shoes and ended up in a fight for her life against sepsis.

Jodie Thomas, Sienna’s mother, had taken her daughter shoe shopping. They’d tried on an assortment of shoes looking for summer sales, but mom had forgotten to bring socks.

By the next day, Sienna was very ill and twitching and shaking in pain. Her mom immediately took her to Prince Charles Hospital, where doctors told the frightened mom that her child had sepsis. Staff identified the infected area and prepared for a likely surgery.

Thankfully, draining the pus from the area and giving Sienna a powerful antibiotic drip averted the need for surgery.

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How did Sienna get sepsis from trying on shoes? Well, her treating physicians told Thomas that it was likely a breach in Sienna’s skin that allowed a bacterial infection from one of the shoes to enter her foot. It could’ve been any open area - a bite, scratch, cut, or friction graze.

Sienna would stay on the children’s ward for five long days before being well enough to be released. Even after her release, Sienna had to be carefully monitored and go to several follow-up appointments.

Thomas says that she still feels incredibly guilty over not being more proactive, and she warns all parents to bring socks when kids try on shoes at any store. Thomas admits that, like most, she was aware of risks like athletes foot in trying on shoes, but she had no idea such a serious thing as sepsis was a possibility.

What Is Sepsis?

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Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening complication/ response to a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection. It occurs when harmful microorganisms enter the blood stream. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Puss with localized edema
  • Skin discoloration
  • Rapid heartbeat and breathing
  • Muscle twitching

Over a million Americans develop sepsis each year, and it claims around 250,000 of those lives. Those with severe cases may need an amputation to keep sepsis from spreading.

Those at the greatest risk to develop sepsis include those with open wounds, cirrhosis, diabetes, and a compromised immune system. The very young and very old are also at a greater risk.

Can You Really Get Sepsis From Trying On Shoes?

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Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, shared his expert opinion on what happened to Sienna. Like her treating physicians, he agrees that she must have had some type of open area on her foot to allow the bacteria entry.

However, he’s uncertain if the shoes were the culprit of the infection and resulting sepsis. Why? According to Schaffner, preexisting microbes, such as Group A streptococcus, live on all human bodies.

These don’t cause us any problems until they come into contact with an open area on the skin and gain entry to the body. Therefore, Sienna’s own bacteria on her own foot could’ve been the source of infection, not the shoes.

Schaffner says that around 99 percent of such minor wounds heal without a problem, but infection and sepsis can occur in anyone, even those not at high risk. When it comes to bacteria, he advises focusing on any and all breaks in the skin.

How To Stay Safe Against Sepsis

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Proper hygiene, such as hand washing, bathing, and wound care, is the best defense against sepsis. Since sepsis progresses so rapidly, you’ll want to take appropriate and swift action at the first sign of infection. Don’t delay seeing your physician.

While Schaffner isn't so sure Sienna’s sepsis derived from trying on shoes, he still advises to wear socks as a barrier when trying on shoes. He also says to limit the time you spend barefooted, especially in public areas and beaches, and to get your annual flu vaccinations to lessen the risk of infection.

What’s your opinion on the shoe situation and potential risk for infection and sepsis? Leave us your thoughts and questions in the comment section, and don’t forget to raise awareness by passing this story along to others.