WHEN Jackie Dowdeswell left for a weekend trip to the Arctic Circle in 2008 she hadn’t had a day sick in decades.

But arriving back in the UK she complained of a head cold. Within days she was dead. Doctors blamed pneumonia and sepsis.

Almost 10 years later, her beloved husband Brian had died from the same disease.

Now their family – daughters Sheila Goacher and Donna Clements, and their families – are hoping to raise £5,000 for the UK Sepsis Trust, enough to train a team of nurses to better spot the signs of a condition that claims the lives of an estimated 44,000 people in the UK each year.

Sheila’s son, Kevin, 30, said: “We were told sepsis is such a rare thing, but I’ve now lost both grandparents to it and we’re finding more and more people who have been affected by it.”

“People don’t ask doctors, ‘Is it sepsis?’ enough - because they don’t know about it.”

Sheila, 54, added: “If you don’t check sepsis quickly enough it knocks all the organs out. Once that happens it’s over.”

Her mum, Jackie, deteriorated overnight. “My mum said ‘I’m not going to go into work this morning’.” It worried Sheila, whose mum loved her workmates and never missed a day.

She rushed to see her mum, who was then living in Bradenstoke: “I looked at her and I thought ‘something’s not right’.”

Within a day, Jackie – just 66 – had died in her hospital bed after suffering two heart attacks.

Then, last October, the family called paramedics after dad Brian became ill. The ambulance staff used their own urine dipstick kit to test for sepsis, the family said. Fearing the worst, he was rushed to the Great Western Hospital.

“The paramedics came straight away and said it was sepsis,” said Sheila. “We said, ‘Not again.’”

When doctors came to write his death note, they diagnosed pneumonia and sepsis – exactly what had taken his wife.

Brian and Jackie Dowdeswell were together for more than 50 years. After meeting aged 11, they married in 1962. They worked hard and played hard too, enjoying trips to Las Vegas and other exotic destinations three times a year.

“Gramps only once admitted he’d lost his wife,” said Kevin. “In the pub he’d say, ‘She’s not around at the moment.’”

Shocked by the speed with which sepsis took their parents, Sheila and her family have organised a charity fundraiser for the UK Sepsis Trust in May.

A charity raffle will feature top prizes – among them, composer and musical theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd-Webber has given two tickets for his West End smash Matilda.

The fundraising day is at The New Inn, Stratton, on May 12 and runs from 12pm to 11pm.

What is sepsis and how do I spot the signs?

Also known as blood poisoning, sepsis sees the body attack its own organs and tissues as it reacts to an infection.

The symptoms often look like flu and can include:

  • Slurred speech or confusion
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passing no urine in a day
  • Severe breathlessness
  • Mottled or discoloured skin

Those suffering from sepsis often say that they feel like they are going to die.

The condition affects more than 250,000 people in the UK every year, the UK Sepsis Trust estimates.