Layla's Dream: Raising funds, awareness for sepsis research

Layla’s Dream, a non-profit organization named in honor of Layla Charette, has donated $10,000 for sepsis research. (WJAR)

Layla’s Dream, a non-profit organization, has donated $10,000 for sepsis research.

Sepsis is a deadly illness caused by your body's response to an infection.

It reportedly took the life of 16-year-old Gianna Cirella, a soccer player at Toll Gate High School in Warwick who died on November 1, as well as 5-year-old Layla Charette of Cumberland who passed away on February 12.

Dr. Lee Polikoff, a sepsis expert and researcher at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, accepted the donation on behalf of Layla’s Dream, which was named in honor of Layla Charette. Polikoff helped care for her during her short stay at the hospital as she battled the raging infection.

"Layla's case was an example of extreme sepsis," Dr. Susan Duffy, an emergency room physician at Hasbro, told NBC 10 News. "The most common causes of sepsis are routine bacteria that cause routine illnesses like pneumonia, urinary tract infections, skin infections, but there's something about the combination of the infection and the host that lead to this cascade of events."

"She had never had a sick visit. She was a healthy kid," said Alaina Charette, Layla’s mother, who described her daughter as a happy, caring and giving child.

"I remember we went to McDonald's once and there's a little boy that lives in our town,” said B.J. Charette, Layla’s father. “He's got spinal muscular atrophy and Layla wanted to give him a toy from her Happy Meal and we walked over to him, and we gave him the toy and that's just the type of person Layla was."

When B.J. picked Layla up from school on February 8, he said that while she seemed a little off, it didn’t appear to be anything alarming.

But by Thursday, she had a fever.

"We called the doctor,” B.J. said. “The doctor said it was probably nothing to worry about. Kids were getting sick. It's February."

Yet, early on Friday morning, he and Alaina checked on her “and she was delusional."

The Charette’s rushed their little girl to Hasbro.

"And by noontime she had gone in to cardiac arrest," said B.J.

By Sunday, Layla was gone.

"We needed to do something,” said Alaina. “We needed to channel our energy."

And that's how Layla's Dream came about. Part of its mission: to deliver toys to sick children in the intensive care unit at Hasbro.

The organization also got CVS to donate higher quality tissues, which is important for grieving families.

"Through Layla's Dream we don't want to just be the people who just give toys to the kids, which is great, but we want to do other things," said NBC 10’s Joe Kayata, who is Layla’s uncle.

"We want to make sure this doesn't happen again," said NBC 10 producer Meghan Kayata, Layla’s aunt.

"I think about your daughter every single day, I mean that from the bottom of my heart,” Polikoff said to the family, adding that Hasbro is part of a collaborative of children's hospitals aimed at decreasing the death rate from sepsis.

Research, Polikoff said, is key. He said the goal is developing a way to identify the illness earlier, coming up with interventions to improve a patient’s outcome, as well as preventing the illness.

But it's also important to raise awareness about the early signs and symptoms of sepsis.

"Breathing rapidly, repetitive vomiting, not urinating, not being able to eat. Disorientation is a sign of more advanced sepsis,” said Duffy. "Every hour a patient with sepsis goes without antibiotics it increases their risk of mortality.”

"Nobody should ever have to watch their child die,” said B.J.

And to that end, Layla's Dream is helping fund research Polikoff is conducting at the hospital.

"If what we're doing can stop one other family from having to go through this, it's worth it," said Alaina.

"We'll learn something,” promised Polikoff. ” We’ll do better and the next kid I hope, in honor of your daughter, things might be different.”

Out of the 75, 000 pediatric cases of sepsis in the United States, three out of four children recover, so it is not always fatal.

But awareness is crucial.

Click here to learn more.

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