20 October 2023
Aaron Phipps is a gold medal Paralympian in wheelchair rugby. When he was 15 years old, he was rushed to Southampton Children’s Hospital after contracting meningitis and septicaemia, losing both legs and the tips of his fingers.
Due to his treatment in the hospital, Aaron is an ambassador for Southampton Hospitals Charity, and their appeal to refurbish the G3 ward where he was treated.
Mum Tracie explains what happened in the run up to Aaron’s hospital stay, “It was the 7 January 1999 and it was Aaron’s first day back at school after the Christmas holiday.
That evening he thought he had a cold and so went to bed early. He seemed fine when we checked on him later in the evening but threw up twice in the night.
By the morning he felt worse, so my husband and I agreed to book an appointment with the GP. Then when Aaron got up, he collapsed on the landing. There was a small red area on his chest, so we pressed a glass against it, but it didn’t go.
The doctor came straight out to see him, and immediately called an ambulance. From this point his limbs started to turn blacker by the minute, and they suspected sepsis.”
Septicemia, or sepsis, is where the blood is poisoned by bacteria.
“When he arrived at Southampton Children’s Hospital, he was taken up to the G level wards where he immediately crashed. Doctors came rushing from the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and high dependency unit, and we were told he needed urgent medical treatment. He was put him on a ventilator to start breathing for him.
It was unbelievable, and my husband, Grahame, and I were in shock.
Aaron went from the first signs of a cold to life support in less than 12 hours.
He was moved to PICU and we were told to ask family and friends to come into hospital to say goodbye to him as his health was deteriorating so quickly.
Tests came back showing that he had a meningococcal meningitis group C infection and sepsis.
The infection spread, and he was put on life support and dialysis. After 24 hours we were told there was nothing else they could do for him, and we had to wait to see if his body could fight the infection.
He spent the next 32 days in intensive care.
After a few days when he begun to stabilise, however doctors thought he would lose his arms and legs as these remained black where the tissue had started to die. We had to wait three months to see where the spread would stop.
By this point he couldn’t stand up as his muscles had wasted away, and he was given a computer with a special monitor so he could continue with his school work.
After the intensive care unit, he was transferred to the G3 orthopaedic ward. The staff were fantastic, and we did have a side room as he was so much worse than everyone else on the ward.
He needed multiple fasciotomy surgeries to treat acute compartment syndrome in his legs to help with the swelling.
On 20 March they made the decision to remove the necrotic (dead) tissue on his limbs. He was taken to theatre where his fingers and feet were removed, before being transferred to Salisbury Hospital for the specialist surgery to remove his legs below the knee.
He spent the next nine months at Salisbury having skin grafts on his limbs, plus rehabilitation to help him gain some of his independence back.
In total, he spent nearly a full year in hospital, being admitted on 7 January, and leaving on 22 December!
After he left hospital, he met his wife Vicky, and she persuaded him to try wheelchair basketball as he had been good at basketball when younger. Aaron did several racing events, culminating in the London Marathon.
After this, he kept training and was approached to try out for the paralympic team for wheelchair rugby where he trained hard for a place in the London 2012 Olympics team, going on to win a gold medal in Tokyo 2020!
Before the infection, he was always active and had no fear. He is a really gentle person, but when he plays wheelchair rugby, it is a completely different side that comes out of him!
He is a very determined person, and I think surviving what he did helped to give him that drive.
Even when he was in Southampton doing rehabilitation in the gym, he would say, I can do a couple more, I can do a couple more. He was so weak, but he was determined that he was going to get better.
He helped set up the Solent Sharks and he is such an inspiration. The children there see him grown up, with a family, children, career, and a life. Everything got thrown up in the air, but he proved he could still have a normal life.
I am so thankful we live near to this hospital because I think if we’d have lived in the countryside, he wouldn’t have survived. The nursing care is amazing, but I don’t think the G3 ward environment has changed since Aaron was a patient.
Please support the Southampton Hospitals Charity G3 ward refurbishment appeal so they can continue to support both patients and relatives to the fullest.”
Be part of something
The Southampton Children’s trauma and orthopaedic ward on G3 is a special place. But we need your help to refurbish it and make it even more special.
With your support, we aim to raise £1.64 million to make sure it is fit for the amazing children we treat, their wonderful families, and our brilliant staff who care for them.
We see our trauma and orthopaedic ward as a team, and to keep ours running at a world class level, we need another member. You.
So, are you ready to join the team?