The common cold sore virus stole the life of Sydney mum Jess Buchanan’s newborn, and she’s determined no other parents suffer the same heartbreaking loss.
Now pregnant with her fourth baby, Jess has spoken out to warn about the dangers of the virus that stole her 11 day-old son’s life.
An uncomplicated birth
Already a mum of one when she had baby Jack in 2015, Jess thought she’d done everything right to protect her new bub – including encouraging her family to be up-to-date with vaccinations.
“Jack was born with little fuss via C-section. He was beautiful, perfect. We were all very happy. Being in the luxury of a private hospital, I sent him to the nursery every night. About a third of the people that visited when we had our first, Aiden, visited Jack. It was a quiet, non-eventful week and on Thursday after six nights in hospital, it was time for us to go home. I remember looking at my bub in his capsule, he looked a bit different. I said to Angus, ‘does he look ok to you?’ ‘Yep, let’s go,’ he replied, and I didn’t give it another thought,” Jess wrote in a post on Dad Minus One.
The couple took their second little boy home, but mother’s instinct told Jess something wasn’t right.
“Jack was fussy on the bottle and I just figured he was different to his brother Aiden, who was ravenous and couldn’t get enough. Over the next two days I tried different bottles, teats. Sometimes he fed, sometimes not so well.
“On Saturday night at his 12am and 4am feed his nappies were dry. I began to worry. By 7:30am on the Sunday we were on our way back to hospital. We stayed in Emergency while they tried to figure out what was wrong with him. The NETS (Newborn Emergency Transport Service) team came, and it took five and a half hours to stabilise him before we were transferred to the Sydney Children’s Hospital. When we went into an isolated room in ICU I knew things were really bad.
“They hooked Jack up to every medication you could imagine. He had drips in his feet. They couldn’t regulate his body temperature. The hours that followed were harrowing. There was nothing we could do to help, just watch as the doctors and nurses did their thing. They were amazing and for that I will always be thankful.”
Jess says Jack put up the fight of his life, but just 11 days after he was born, his battle ended.
“I remember asking the ICU doctor to stop CPR. They unhooked Jack and placed him in my arms. The noise that came out of my mouth is something that is almost indescribable. It was the sound of pure pain. We stayed with him for hours.”
Jess and her her husband Angus gave consent for an autopsy and eventually, they were told their precious boy had died of Herpes Simplex Virus 1 Sepsis.
“Neither Angus or myself have ever had a cold sore in our lives. No one in our immediate families get them. Certainly, no one who visited had a cold sore. I learnt that you can shed the virus when you are getting a cold sore for the first time, but we weren’t sick. Close to 90 per cent of the population carry the virus but don’t necessarily get cold sores. Did Jack catch it off a nurse? Did he catch it off me? ‘You can send yourself mad trying to figure it out,’ The head of ICU said. Well mad I nearly did go.”
The couple was also told that Jack had had a surge of Ferritin or iron in his blood. There were questions raised about whether their little boy had an underlying genetic condition that can be triggered by HSV, but it still wouldn’t have affected the tragic outcome.
“‘What now?’ I said to Angus. “Do we launch a national ‘don’t kiss your baby’ campaign?’” You can’t be immunised for HSV1. Even now, I find it difficult figuring out how best to spring into action and honour Jack in a proactive way to educate people about HSV. When I’ve told Jack’s story to people and followed with, ‘it’s a good idea not to kiss your baby’, they look at me like I’m mad. Kissing a baby is the most natural thing in the world.”
Four months after Jack’s death the couple discovered they were expecting another baby.
“One year and three days after we lost our precious Jack, and after what felt like the most stressful pregnancy ever, Eloise May Buchanan was born. She was beautiful, and we were trying so hard to be happy. We were happy. Just a different kind of happy. Happy is different now.
“Following her birth, we traipsed back and forth from the Children’s Hospital to have genetic tests done on her. It was horribly distressing having to take our new baby to the place where our last baby died. Aiden was three-and-a-half years old and kept asking if Eloise was going to die like baby Jack. Such overwhelming conversations to have with a child so young.”
While some of Eloise’s tests came back abnormal, she’s now a happy almost-two-year-old. And the family is about to expand again.
“So here I am, nearly three years after losing our Jack and I am pregnant with our fourth baby. Everything willing, it will be born in late November. I guess I’ve written my story to to make people understand the dangers of HSV-1, to let them know the enormous impact it’s had on our lives and most importantly to let everyone know about Jack.
“If me telling his story encourages just one person to wash their hands extra well, to take extra precautions around babies or to avoid contact completely if they feel the tingle of a cold sore on their lips – then it will have been worth it.”