ITV's Jason and Clara: In Memory of Maudie 'The reason I made a programme about sepsis'

ITV Wales presenter Andrea Byrne is one of the Executive Producers of a new documentary, Jason and Clara: In Memory of Maudie. Credit: ITV

When my dad passed away from sepsis in 2017, I knew very little about the condition.

He had fallen ill a few weeks before with what he thought was a very nasty stomach bug. He didn’t feel he needed to bother the doctor and he certainly wasn’t considering hospital. He should have been doing both.

Eventually, he was admitted to intensive care. And shortly afterwards, placed in an induced coma where he remained for several days. Eventually all his major organs failed him.

Andrea lost her father to sepsis in 2017 Credit: Andrea Byrne

From then on, as a journalist, I vowed to find out more. 

What was sepsis? 

Why do so many people die from it? 

And why is so little known about it? 

What I discovered through my journalism was not only just how complex it is as an illness, but how hard the signs can be to spot.

Through speaking to those who had survived sepsis - many left with life-changing injuries - and meeting medics trying to improve early diagnosis, I was able to start raising some awareness of what is known as ‘the silent killer’.

My father was placed in an induced coma where he remained for several days Credit: Andrea Byrne

The response to those news reports, which we aired on ITV Cymru Wales, was staggering. 

The figures spoke for themselves in terms of the cases reported in hospitals and the numbers who were dying. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the volume of responses from those whose lives had been touched by sepsis - the real stories behind the statistics.

I felt there was more to be told. More to be done. So many people had lost loved ones from a condition, about which so little is publicised.

I felt there was a need to give the topic a bigger platform. I wanted to be able to make a longer programme for a larger stage to try to let more people know about the signs and symptoms and shine a light on areas that might need improvement in the health service.

There seemed to be few public health campaigns, if any, addressing it. And, although there were examples of good practice in pockets, there seemed to be inconsistencies around diagnosis and treatment.

During my research, I came across the story of the actor Jason Watkins - many of you will be familiar with him from his award-winning roles on ITV. 

He and his actor and fashion-designer wife, Clara Francis, had tragically lost their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Maudie to sepsis over a decade ago and my thoughts turned to hoping they might be part of a documentary, although I had no idea how that suggestion would be received.

Maudie died suddenly in the early hours of New Year’s Day in 2011.

When I got in touch with Jason and explained my dad’s story and the work I’d been doing, he was keen to share with me the campaigns he had been a part of with the UK Sepsis Trust, but also the stories of those that so regularly reached out to him, many who had also lost children or relatives. Crucially, Jason said he was keen to make something that might make a difference. That might save a life.

And so began the extraordinary privilege of starting a journey with Jason and Clara to produce a film about the loss of Maudie. The most important objective was to make sure Maudie’s story was told in just the right way - not only in order to elevate the profile of sepsis but also to help families living with a child bereavement.  

Jason and his wife Clara lost their daughter Maude in 2011

It was, undeniably, going to be a hugely emotional undertaking for Jason and Clara and their family, and all of us in the ITV Cymru Wales network programmes production team, not least director Matthew Tune and producer Alexandra Hartley, who worked incredibly closely with them to achieve the right narrative and tone. We knew it was not our story to tell.

Jason and Clara spoke to ITV's Good Morning Britain on Thursday about the making of the programme and what they hope people will take from it.

The couple spoke about the challenges of how they blamed themselves as parents for Maudie's death. Clara said she never thought she would "laugh or smile" again in the early days after Maudie died.

"My instinct was that she is very ill - but I wasn't very... 'listen to me! listen to me! I wish I had been. If I had just been more demanding, I would have stuck with my instincts and not been so accepting", Clara explained.

Jason added, "It's hard for us as parents to feel one of the most painful things and ask, 'Did we do everything?' It's easy to blame yourself."

Maudie died of sepsis, a condition where the body’s immune system overreacts to an infection

Describing Maudie, Jason said, "She was full of life and joy. I still have difficulty going back to the joy because I'm still filled with the trauma of her loss, but she was the most extraordinary happy singing... wise beyond her years."

Talking about sepsis, Jason described it as a "cruel condition" as it is a secondary illness, and can often mask itself behind common symptoms such as the flu.

"It's a cruel condition, it puts onus on the parent. It's good to be across the signs but that's not fair on parents. It's incredibly complex and I don't want to demonise the health professionals."

Jason and Clara said they feel the time is right time to tell their story and explore their grief.

Jason said they want to show that a family like theirs has survived the "worst thing that can happen to a parent" after losing a child and hopes the programme will help others going through something similar.

"When you lose a child initially, it's indescribable - your sense of guilt, loss, absence of your child. The light of your life is gone and you don't know how you can go on."

Clara added, "When Jason was asked to make the documentary, we thought it was an opportunity to talk about sepsis but also to talk about how it is possible to live a good life after such a terrible tragedy."

"People don't talk about it because for me and for Jason, when she initially died, it was like I needed to see other bereaved people further down the road because I couldn't believe they got out of bed and went to work. I really feel quite passionately now that you can - and there is a life to be had afterwards."

Two years on - and thanks to a remarkable display of courage by Jason, Clara and their children, this week on ITV1, ‘Jason and Clara: In Memory of Maudie’ will air for the first time.

Sepsis can strike anyone at any moment. It does not discriminate. Giving this film an hour of your time will not only give you a new perspective on grief, but it might just help save a life.  

Little Maude I hope would be immensely proud of her legacy. And, as I reflect on how the idea for this film originally came about, I hope my dad might be a little bit proud too.

Watch Jason and Clara: In Memory of Maudie at 9pm, Thursday, on ITV1.

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