'˜He died in our arms' - family's heartbreak after death of 4-year-old boy as Sunderland Hospital launches inquiry

'He had the rest of his life ahead of him and it has been taken away from him' '“ those are the words of a distraught family after doctors sent a little boy home less than 24 hours before he died.

Wednesday, 28th November 2018, 7:05 am
Updated Wednesday, 28th November 2018, 10:25 am

‘Beautiful’ four-year-old Sheldon Gary Farnell died in Sunderland Royal Hospital with suspected sepsis on Monday.

A review into the circumstances around Sheldon’s care has now been launched by bosses at City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, with the matter also passed to the city coroner for investigation.

Sheldon Gary Farnell

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Sheldon’s devoted mum, Katrina Farnell, had rushed her unwell son to hospital on Friday and the pair spent the next two days on a ward believing Sheldon had a serious viral infection.

His grieving family say he was discharged on Sunday morning - before blood results had come back to show something wasn’t right - and then doctors failed to get in touch with Sheldon’s loved ones to get him re-admitted.

By the early hours of Monday morning, Sheldon’s condition back home had worsened - he was unable to stand, he was dizzy and was suffering from sickness and diarrhoea and had pain all over his body.

His family hurried him back to hospital, where he was put on life support, but tragically the youngster died in the arms of his family on Monday morning.

Katrina Farnell lost her son Sheldon Farnell. Pictured with grandmother Nicola Farnell and grandfather Gary Farnell

His grandmother Nicola Farnell, 46, who Sheldon would lovingly call ‘Mommor’, said: “Sheldon was a very fun, loving, caring, joyful little boy.

“He went on life support and his heart just stopped and they tried to get him back. They were doing heart massages and his pulse was so slow and then it stopped again.

“Katrina just said ‘mam he’s gone’ - and he died in our arms.”

Sheldon’s grandfather, Gary Farnell, said: “I used to say to him ‘God help you when you get older and the girls are chasing after you’. He was a bonny little boy and he loved everyone.

Front mother Katrina Farnell with grandmother Nicola Farnell and grandfather Gary Farnell. Back row: Hilda Jamieson, Sarah Farnell, Damian Addison, Holly Keegan, Daniel Robson, Rachael Farnell with baby Violet-Mae.

“He was the most polite little boy. He had the rest of his life ahead of him and it has been taken away from him.

“He loved everybody and he adored everyone.

“We’re a close family and we’re always together and we’ve just lost the best thing in our lives.

“The house is just too quiet now.”

Katrina Farnell holds a picture of her son Sheldon

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Hundreds raised in honour of Sheldon Farnell

The close-knit family had gathered at Gary and Nicola’s home in Houghton where Katrina, 23, lived with Sheldon to support each other and grieve.

The youngster will be missed by all who knew him including his best friends Jack, 9, and Olly, 4, who are the children of Katrina’s partner Holly Keegan.

Sheldon’s aunt, Rachael Farnell, who Sheldon used to call ‘Aunty Hurry’, said: “He would take the mick out of you in any little way possible - he’s exactly like mam in that way.”

His uncle and Rachael’s partner, Daniel Robson, who Sheldon used to call ‘Uncle Havier’, said: “The doctor had come round and taken samples of blood on Friday - they told Katrina they would be back in an hour with his results.

“She kept asking every hour but nothing came back, [the results] didn’t come back until Sunday night and in the meantime, Sheldon had been discharged.

Sheldon with mum Katrina Farnell

“He’d had a lumbar puncture and he couldn’t even walk - for that alone he shouldn’t have been discharged.

“He did have all the signs of sepsis. He was yellow, he was being sick and he had diarrhoea.”

Concerning blood results came back after Sheldon, who attended Nesham Nursery in Houghton, was discharged.

Gary said the family are now demanding answers from hospital bosses over what happened.

He added: “He should never have been sent home at least until they got them blood tests.

“We’ve lost our beautiful grandson

“He was the star of our lives.

“We’re just broken hearted all of us - he just made everyone laugh.”

An inquest to determine the cause of Sheldon’s death will be opened in due course.

Ian Martin, medical director at City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We offer our heartfelt condolences to Sheldon’s family for their tragic loss and are offering all the support we can to his loved ones at this very sad and difficult time.

“Due to patient confidentiality, we are unable to discuss details of Sheldon’s treatment, however we can confirm that we have already started our robust internal review process so that we can fully understand the circumstances around his care.

“As with any unexpected death, the coroner will also be undertaking a full and thorough investigation and we are offering our full co-operation and support of this process.

“We will continue to keep Sheldon’s family fully updated and are unable to comment any further at this time.”


Sepsis can be triggered by an infection in any part of the body. The most common sites of infection leading to sepsis are the lungs, urinary tract, tummy (abdomen) and pelvis.

The very young and the very old are more vulnerable to developing sepsis from minor infections.

Septic shock

In some cases, symptoms of more severe sepsis or septic shock (when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level) develop soon after.

These can include:

* Feeling dizzy or faint

* A change in mental state – such as confusion or disorientation

* Diarrhoea

* Nausea and vomiting

* Slurred speech

* Severe muscle pain

* Severe breathlessness

* Less urine production than normal – for example, not urinating for a day

* Cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin

* Loss of consciousness

Sheldon pictured with grandfather Gary Farnell and cousin Violet-Mae
Sheldon was a happy and joyful four-year-old boy
Sheldon's family say he loved dressing up with bobbles in his hair
Sheldon pictured with his Aunty Hurry and Uncle Havier (Rachael Farnell and Daniel Robson)
Sheldon pictured with mum Katrina Farnell
Sheldon pictured with his Uncle Havier (Daniel Robson)
The first picture of Daniel Robson with Sheldon