‘Just black claws’: How flu turned deadly
LITTLE Mia Wilkinson from Brisbane was a happy four-year-old girl like any other.
She loved shopping for dolls with her mum and climbing across the obstacle course at the playground.
That was until she was struck down with the flu in October 2017.
It's an illness that many of us will know is potentially dangerous, but what happened to Mia in the 48 hours that followed still haunts her parents and it changed her life forever.
On Channel Seven's Sunday Night, her parents, Peter and Amy, broke down as they recalled what happened over those harrowing hours and days that left Mia fighting for her life.
The toddler's heart stopped beating, the blood stopped flowing to her hands and feet - meaning all four of her limbs had to be amputated after they turned black.
It was all because she was struck down with sepsis - a life-threatening blood infection caused by bacteria.
It killed the tissue in her limbs, beginning with her arms. Recalling the moment his daughter's hands turned from purple to "black claws" Mr Wilkinson said her body "turned into something like a horror movie".
It all began on a Friday afternoon in October 2017, when Mia told her mum she had a sore tummy.
"And then about 5pm, she threw up, so, we said: 'OK, looks like gastro. We've seen this before, not worry about dinner. Put her to bed'," Mrs Wilkinson told Sunday Night.
However, Mia threw up through that night and she had a temperature.
Her parents knew something wasn't right and took her to the doctors.
The doctor told them he thought Mia had a case of gastro on the Saturday morning and she was sent home but, by the afternoon, she was getting worse.
"She didn't respond, so she didn't seem to hear her name or couldn't look at me," said Mrs Wilkinson.
Frightened by how Mia was acting, Mrs Wilkinson's instinct kicked in and took her straight to the emergency department at the local hospital.
However, they were told it was just a normal case of the flu and that Mia should go home and get some rest.
"We had this gut feeling (that it was something worse)," said Amy. "Should've we been louder? But we're not, you know, really pushy people."
Flash forward a day later, and Amy took a break from cooking to check on her daughter.
Mia had been in bed all day, lethargic, not eating or drinking.
When Amy went in to check on her, she pulled back the covers to discover a light purple rash on her legs.
"If she wore leggings, I wouldn't have seen it," Mrs Wilkinson told Sunday Night as she broke down in tears. "I would've put her to bed and she shares a room with (her sister) Ellie and that would just be horrible."
As soon as they arrived at hospital, Mr Wilkinson said it was "very obvious" it was serious straight away.
"There's doctors everywhere," he said. "There's nurses everywhere. And Mia's crying out
because she's in pain. There's nothing that we can do."
In floods of tears, the parents then described how Mia's lungs started struggling and her organs began to shut down.
The doctors needed to intubate her to help her breathe and the distraught parents stepped outside for a cup of tea. But, when they returned they heard medics yelling out: "We're losing her".
Dr Luregn Schlapbach, a sepsis specialist in the Queensland Children's Hospital, told Sunday Night he was not sure whether Mia would survive.
"She had what we call septic shock," he said. "So when sepsis is so strong, that the heart actually struggles to pump enough blood to the different organs."
That meant Mia's blood pressure was critically low. She had to be put on medication to keep it high enough to support her brain and vital organs.
But the blood was not getting through to her limbs.
Her parents noticed, starting with her fingertips, that her skin was turning from grey, to a dark purple, to black.
Mr Wilkinson said his daughter's hands, at that point, were "just black claws".
"I mean, they turned into something like a horror movie," he said.
A doctor came in and told them they needed to amputate. Mia's parents had to break the devastating news to their little girl.
"I don't want them to take my hands," she told them. "How will I play with Ellie?"
Just a few weeks after being admitted to hospital, Mia had both arms amputated below the elbow.
"She was in pain," said Mrs Wilkinson. "So much pain. I remember her biting her lip all night. She's tough. She's so tough."
The devastated parents were allowed to take Mia home for a few days before taking her back, this time to have both her legs amputated on January 3.
Now aged six, Mia has since made a remarkable recovery and Sunday Night showed the incredible journey she has been on - from learning how to walk again on her prosthetic legs, to learning how to draw and write with no hands.
Her parents told the show their daughter continues to amaze them with her resilience and that seeing her thrive despite everything she's been through inspires them to carry on.
"What gets us get through it is seeing her be OK," Mr Wilkinson said.
"If she wasn't OK, I don't think we'd survive. But she is, and, you know, to hear that laughter, to see that smile - we're so lucky to still... still have her."
Her have set up Movement for Mia to increase awareness about sepsis and to raise funds for Mia's ongoing medical expenses, treatments and prosthetics.
However, they said the most important message from their story is for parents to look out for signs their children may have sepsis.
These include rapid breathing and heart rate, confusion, slurred speech or disorientation, not passing urine, discoloured skin or a rash that doesn't fade when you push it.
They also urged parents to have their kids vaccinated against the flu - as Australia is in the middle of the second-deadliest flu season on record - with more than 230 deaths this year so far.
WHAT IS SEPSIS?
Sepsis is a serious blood infection caused by bacteria.
It starts with any bacterial infection in the bladder, or in the chest, or on the skin. But if you have sepsis, the infection worsens and spreads through the blood.
The symptoms include:
Rapid breathing and heart rate
If sepsis gets worse, symptoms can include:
Nausea and vomiting
A sudden drop in blood pressure