Don’t let Jemma’s death be in vain

Jemma-Louise Roberts
Jemma-Louise Roberts

THE mother of a Wigan schoolgirl who died from blood poisoning has spoken publicly for the first time about her family’s loss - in a bid to spare others the same tragedy.

Jemma Roberts, 13, fell victim to sepsis last year and mum Diane believes it was a form of the bacterial infection called Toxic Shock Syndrome which can be caused by tampons.

Not many people are aware of sepsis so I want to help raise awareness

Diane Roberts

There has not been medical consensus on this theory nor has an inquest been held.

But, whatever the view, Mrs Roberts said that there are clear lessons to be learnt as relatives at first thought that the Standish High School pupil had simply come down with a bug while they holidayed in Wales. By the time a more accurate diagnosis had been made, Jemma’s condition was deteriorating and medics were eventually unable to save her.

Jemma, of Whelley, was enjoying a family holiday in Conwy, North Wales, last February when she began suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea.

The family returned home but after she complained of neck and back ache, a GP visited her and she was sent to Wigan Infirmary in an ambulance. Medical staff suggested she had a form of sepsis shock known as Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a bacterial infection often caused by tampons.

But as Jemma was transferred to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, doctors said there was no evidence of this. And after she lost her battle for life, the cause of death was given simply as sepsis with shock, which had brought about organ failure and a bleed to the brain.

More than a year on, to mark World Sepsis Day, Jemma’s mum Diane is urging people to be aware of the symptoms of both sepsis and TSS.

She said: “To me, sepsis and TSS are very similar - I can’t see a difference.

“I have to make it clear: we do not know the cause of Jemma’s developing sepsis with shock.

“However, the doctors at Wigan Infirmary referred to it as TSS, but Alder Hey simply referred to it as sepsis with shock and could not confirm how Jemma developed it.

“Jemma was on her period, and was using tampons, to enable her to train as a competitive swimmer, changing them regularly in line with guidance instructions. If someone is displaying flu-like symptoms, sickness, diarrhoea, is lethargic, confused or has a rash, you need to take note. A lot of these symptoms can be mistaken for anything.

“It was when we were in Wales and following an afternoon walk that Jemma complained of feeling tired. The illness developed gradually over the next 24 hours in to sickness and diarrhoea.

“The alarm bells rang for us when Jemma said her back and neck were aching. Up until that point we thought she just had a bad sickness bug.

“We had a telephone consultation with a doctor in Conwy, who thought she had norovirus, and told us we should go back home.

“She seemed to get a bit better but she complained of neck and back ache again. A GP was concerned as her blood pressure was low and called for an ambulance to go to Wigan Infirmary.

“She was then transferred to Manchester Children’s Hospital. However, her condition was so acute that she was transferred to Alder Hey for life support. Jemma lost her fight for life one week on from being taken into Wigan, and only 10 days after her initial signs of illness.

“Jemma’s death is still very difficult to talk about as it is all still very raw.

“But we have to move forward and use this to help others. Not many people are aware of sepsis, so I want to help raise awareness. It kills 375,000 people in the UK every year - more than cancer.”

For more information on the condition, visit