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Fisherman Jack Burnham from Deal shares story of his 'miraculous' recovery from septic shock

Jack Burnham described the feeling of septic shock taking over his body as like running a marathon when you're the most unfit person in the world.

As the deadly condition consumed his body, he says he knew he was dying. Now, having made an incredible recovery and returned to work, he wants to raise awareness of the illness.

Jack Burnham in the intensive care unit at St Thomas' Hospital
Jack Burnham in the intensive care unit at St Thomas' Hospital

When Jack Burnham's organs failed as a result of septic shock, the Deal fisherman said he knew he was dying.

At the time, the 38-year twin had endured one of the worst periods of his life, with the sudden death of his elder brother, Gregory.

His feelings of depression and low energy were thought to be a symptom of grief.

But the combination of his low mood and a gash on his knee that wouldn't heel one day surfaced as something far more concerning - septic shock.

He told KentOnline said: "I knew I was dying.

Having recovered from septic shock Jack Burnham is keen to get back to what he loves - fishing at sea. Picture: Andy Jones
Having recovered from septic shock Jack Burnham is keen to get back to what he loves - fishing at sea. Picture: Andy Jones

"I was full with fluid. My heart and brain kept going but all my other organs went into shut down.

"I just said sedate me. I didn't want to be aware of my last moments."

Jack's ordeal began in January 2019 when he broke his ankle. Two weeks later his brother died from an anurysim.

He said: "Psychologically I just gave up. I did the eulogy at the funeral with my twin brother and it was a horrible time.

"I had this wound on my leg and I never really addressed it but it wouldn't heel.

"I just said sedate me. I didn't want to be aware of my last moments..."

"My legs just turned into balloons and I collected all this fluid in my legs.

"I never felt ill but I didn't feel well last year.

"It was a really bad year. I couldn't go to sea and I had nothing to look forward to."

Jack went to see a doctor in May and was diagnosed with generalised infection and given antibiotics but his heath did not improve.

He said: "Meanwhile my body was just getting weaker and weaker.

Jack Burnham prior to his illness in Tromso, Norway, with his twin brother, Ben
Jack Burnham prior to his illness in Tromso, Norway, with his twin brother, Ben

"I went back to the doctors and they gave me a second dose of antibiotics."

Unbeknown to Jack, he had sepsis.

On August 12, the former Walmer Secondary pupil and son of former mayor Marlene Burnham and artist Tom Burham spent a day in a church pleading for answers as to what was wrong with him.

He said: "I was just praying. I really didn't know what was wrong with me. I knew something was seriously wrong but I didn't know what.

"At this point I couldn't urinate or go to the toilet.

"That's when the sepsis had taken over my body."

Sepsis vs Septic shock

Sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, is the name given to a blood infection typically caused by bacteria. It is more common and can be treated with antibiotics.

Septic shock is a very serious condition that results from uncontrolled sepsis. It is life-threatening and requires immediate attention. Patients are typically treated in the ICU and require around-the-clock care.

The same day, Jack was on his way to play a game of darts with his brother when his body gave up and his organs starting shutting down.

Sat in his car outside the Magnet pub in London Road, his twin Ben thought he was suffering a panic attack and called home to alert their parents.

Jack Burnham with his parents Tom and Marlene, twin Ben, sister Rachel and brother Gregory who died.
Jack Burnham with his parents Tom and Marlene, twin Ben, sister Rachel and brother Gregory who died.

Their father's quick response, arriving at the scene within three minutes, was the start of a sequence of events which is likely to have saved Jack's quality of life, if not life.

Jack said: "Imagine you've been running a marathon and you're the most unfit person in the world but you have to do it.

"This is the closest feeling I think you could feel or it's the same feeling you feel when you're dying.

"I could hardly speak. In a period of 20 minutes I'd gone from being able to drive and walk, considering a game of darts, to being incapable of anything.

"I was sitting in my car and I couldn't breathe."

Jack Burnham and his dad Tom revisited staff at St Thomas' in December and presented a painting by Tom of the view from the ward window
Jack Burnham and his dad Tom revisited staff at St Thomas' in December and presented a painting by Tom of the view from the ward window

An ambulance arrived within minutes and Jack was transported to QEQM Hospital in Margate where he was taken from A&E to intensive care and put on life support.

The words 'septic shock' weren't mentioned until the following day when Jack was transported to St Thomas' Hospital in London where specialist treatment was available. It was thanks to a doctor recognising the symptoms so promptly that this transition was made.

He was sedated, ventilated via a breathing tube and on dialysis to neutralise acid in his blood, and remained on a life support machine for two weeks.

At this point Jack, who was malnourished - weighing only 53 kilos, was given only a 40% survival rate. Days later a doctor told his family they could be "cautiously optimistic."

During this period, hospital staff, family and friends kept a diary for Jack.

Jack Burnham with his dad Tom Burnham who sat by his bedside throughout his illness. Picture: Andy Jones
Jack Burnham with his dad Tom Burnham who sat by his bedside throughout his illness. Picture: Andy Jones

It was also a book that people could leave messages, with his twin Ben one day scribing the lyrics to Athlete's 'Wires'.

The death of the 21-year-old female patient next to Jack was a stark reminder of the position he was in.

He said: "I think I was surprised I came to, in fact. It seemed so surreal.

"I was aware of the tubes and being tied to a bed.

"I wasn't fearful but I had no energy. I felt like I was just existing."

Jack Burnham said it is a ‘miracle’ that he has recovered from septic shock so well. Picture: Andy Jones
Jack Burnham said it is a ‘miracle’ that he has recovered from septic shock so well. Picture: Andy Jones

Although concious, Jack wasn't out of the woods. A fortnight later he contracted pneumonia, setting him back, as well as a skin fungus which led him to be kept in isolation.

He began a programme of rehabilitation and was able to stand again within six weeks.

He was then transferred back to the QEQM for three weeks and finally sent home to Middle Deal Road in Deal at the beginning of October where he could be cared for by his family.

As part of his after-care he still sees psychiatrists, nutritionists and has regular blood tests.

While the recovery process is likely to take a full year, Jack is feeling positive and has been left with almost no organ damage.

He has returned to work at Dunkerley's Restaurant and is determined, in the coming months, to return to sea on his boat, Morning Haze, where on a good day, he'd catch 40 to 50 lobsters and crabs to sell to local restaurants.

"I think I was surprised I came to, in fact. It seemed so surreal..."

His dad, Thomas Burnham, who travelled by train to London daily to be by Jack's side said: "Jack had a guardian angel with him that night.

"It was the speed with which Jack managed to get attention which was so vital to him coming out without major organ damage. It was sheer good fortune that he got so speedily to the right place. But it was a stormy journey. "

Jack, who has commended the NHS for their "first rate" care, added: "I'm so lucky.

"I'm only here because of the chain of events. The right place, the right time.

"It's a miracle that I've come out of this as well as I have."

In 2015, when in better health, Jack Burnham and his dad Tom restored family fishing boat, the Lady Irene. Picture: Chris Davey
In 2015, when in better health, Jack Burnham and his dad Tom restored family fishing boat, the Lady Irene. Picture: Chris Davey

He'd like more people to be aware of the symptoms.

He said: "If you notice that you're not urinating as much and that you're body is filling with fluid, that's a very good indicator."

Other signs of sepsis and septic shock also include low body temperature, low blood pressure, altered mental status and a rapid heart rate.

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