Gwen's story - Flu
Gwen's daughter, Shannon
It was a Wednesday when my 17-year-old daughter, Shannon, came home from school saying she thought a friend gave her the flu. We sent her up to her bedroom and began what all parents do: liquids, meals in bed, lots of coddling and love. She entertained herself with electronics, reading, texting friends and talking to her sister via Skype from Japan—they were two peas in a pod.
We kept her home from school for the rest of the week. On Sunday her dad and I agreed she was not improving the way we thought she ought to. The fever was gone, but she was becoming less involved, less animated, and the sore throat continued. Her dad took her to the hospital while I changed her sheets and dusted her room. Our small town clinic was crowded with flu victims. They waited two hours to see the doctor and then he only had a few minutes to assess her and told them to go home and let it “run its course.”
I chose to stay up all night with her. I gave her a bell to ring if she needed anything, but she never did. Monday was no different.
At about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday morning I heard her get out of bed. I went to the bottom of the stairs and saw her sitting at the top. I said, “Hey there. Good to see you up.” She started to stand and I warned her about being weak. She came down one step at a time on her bottom. She went to her easy chair, but couldn't get comfortable. She got up and laid on the couch. I went into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee and saw out of the corner of my eye that she went into the bathroom.
I find her sitting on the toilet and she taps on the shower curtain. I asked if she would like to take a bath and she nods yes. I helped her get undressed and sit down in the tub. I looked into her eyes and saw she was dying. I said, “I think this was a mistake, Shannon. Let's get you out of here.” She could not get up. I got behind her and lifted her with my forearms under her arm pits. I sat on the toilet with her sitting on my lap. She died in my arms.
I banged on the wall, screaming for my husband to call 911. I laid her on the floor and checked for any sign of life. I started giving her mouth to mouth. I hear my husband repeating to the 911 operator, “My 17-year-old daughter is not breathing.”
The ambulance took her to our local hospital, but then she was flown to Mayo in Rochester. When we got there, they had her in a glass room and assigned a minister to stand with us. I watched and heard as they opened up my little girl with an electric saw. I had to stay with her. I couldn't tell her when she recovered that I left her alone. I told the minister, when she woke up, I'd tell her how she was the star of her own episode of House, the TV show she loved so much.
When a doctor came out and talked to me, I told him, “I don't care what you have to do, just bring her back to me.” But, they couldn't. The flu killed her organs long before she came downstairs that day.
I have learned the flu made her body produce too many white blood cells. Even after the flu expired, her body wouldn't stop making white blood cells. Organs can't live on white bloods cells. They need more red than white. Shannon didn't feel her organs die.
She was a perfectly normal kid. Active, honor roll, never missed work, saving for college. Everyone who met her loved her.
How can this be? It was just the flu. Sure, you hear on the news that the flu is upon us and you see the signs for flu shots everywhere, but where do you hear, your daughter will die?
Now I know tens of thousands of Americans die every year. Hundreds of thousands around the world. It is not only the frail, weak, very young and very old. It kills perfectly healthy people. You think you'll hear that it is an especially bad year, or that there is a very potent strain, but this was plain old type A flu.
We gave Shannon the choice to be vaccinated or not. She chose not to get it. If I knew the flu was going to take my beautiful girl away, I would have begged her to take the vaccine. There are parents out there that believe the shot is bad. Death is bad. The vaccine is not perfect. There is no guarantee. But if she had received it, then I wouldn't have to bare the guilt I will carry for the rest of my life because, “what if.”
Video clips from "It Takes All of Us" documentary
More information on flu
- Influenza Basics
Information about flu including symptoms, prevention, and vaccination.
- Vaccine Clinic Look-Up
Find a location near you to get your flu vaccine.