When little kids get chickenpox, it’s natural that they scratch their skin: a rash of red spots turns into blisters, all of which can be itchy. But doing this brought about a tragic end for a three-year-old who scratched one of his bumps and ended up dead within hours.
Bryan-Andrew Lock “was such a good little boy,” according to his mom, Jasmine Shortland, 23. She told the Daily Mirror, “He would melt your heart with his smile. He didn’t have a bad bone in his body.”
Bryan-Andrew was the eldest of the children Shortland shared with her partner Josh Wescott. She worked as a barmaid while raising all her boys – including Austin, 2, Ivan, 1, and Isaac, five months – in Yeovil, a small English town with a population of 45,000.
With so many little ones in the Shortland-Wescott brood, it was likely unsurprising that Bryan-Andrew and his brother Austin had both contracted chickenpox at the same time. The virus is notoriously contagious and is especially prevalent in kids under 12.
Because chickenpox spreads so quickly, Shortland had sent her boys to spend the night with their grandmother to protect Shortland’s then-four-month-old Ivan from getting the virus too. In spite of all this, Bryan-Andrew had seemed in good spirits on August 10, 2016.
“The night before, he was running around,” Shortland recalled. “He was happy. He was laughing and joking. I spoke to him on the phone the night before he died and he told me he loved me and I said, ‘I’ll see you soon and give you cuddles.’”
But Shortland would never be able to make that promise a reality. Instead, her stepfather appeared at her house the next morning with shocking news. “[He] came to my house and told me Bryan-Andrew had died,” she said. “I ran to my mum’s house, I thought, ‘This can’t be right.’”
Shortland would soon find out what had happened: her mother went to wake Bryan-Andrew up on the morning of August 11 and found the little boy to be cold to the touch. She then called paramedics, who tried to revive him with CPR, but their efforts would be in vain.
Initially, Shortland said she had been informed that Bryan-Andrew had suffered from sudden infant death syndrome. This tends to occur in babies who are less than a year old and die unexpectedly and without explanation.
But this wasn’t the case with Bryan-Andrew. In February of 2016, six months after his death, an autopsy revealed he died from a traceable cause: he had likely died from scratching one of his chickenpox blisters.
His reactive scratches gave life-threatening bacteria a pathway into his body. His autopsy revealed the presence of group A streptococcus, a bacteria that typically causes common ailments like strep throat, sinusitis and ear infections.
But group A streptococcus bacteria typically resides in the nose and throat and on the skin; it is not normal to have it within the body. So when it does make its way inside, it can cause more serious infections.
Bryan-Andrew’s autopsy revealed that he hadn’t died from SIDS but from streptococcus A septicemia, which is a bloodstream infection caused by bacteria. Without treatment, this type of infection can cause sepsis, which was what happened to the three-year-old.
Sepsis is the body’s response to a life-threatening infection, but it, too, can be deadly. It deploys infection-fighting chemicals into the bloodstream, which cause inflammation to ward off the bad bacteria. However, this inflammation can also damage organs enough that they fail.
Upon finding out this results of her son’s autopsy, Shortland could only express her disbelief. “I was just shocked. How can a three-year-old boy catch something that’s so rare? My mind is just so boggled by it.”
Shortland said the unexpected loss of her eldest son made her hyper aware of her children’s illnesses since. “Now I’m rushing them to the doctors,” she said. “I am a lot more wary. I wrap them in cotton wool. I’ve got to make sure they’re safe and that nothing is going to happen to them.”
But loss also brought her family closer together. “Since I have lost Bryan-Andrew my attachment to [Isaac and Ivan] is so much stronger,” she said. “It has made our relationship [with partner Josh] stronger. He has been my rock.”
But perhaps the most important thing to come from her devastating loss is her advocacy. Shortland hopes her son’s death will help other mothers to avoid the same unbelievable heartbreak. “I am trying to raise more awareness to other moms,” she said.
Shortland went on to say, “I think it is important to know what can happen when you least expect it. I thought chickenpox was normal. Every child has it. It is something that can lead to infection.”
There is one step parents can take to protect their little ones: the varicella vaccine is up to 90 percent effective in preventing the infection. And follow-up tests have shown children with the vaccinated are protected from the chickenpox for 11 years or more.