COLORADO SPRINGS — Flu season is underway, and in this Your Healthy Family, I met a family whose story underscores the importance of getting a flu shot – and how serious the flu can be.
Jenny Vogan is an ultrasound tech with UCHealth in Colorado Springs who, as a healthcare provider, has long understood the importance of getting a flu shot – not only to protect herself, but also to protect those she cares for.
“I always felt like it was important for me to protect my patients, especially when I was in the intensive care unit. Now, I work in OB-GYN and I feel it's important to protect my OB patients who are especially vulnerable to the flu and could really be hurt by getting the flu.”
Jenny also made sure her entire family was vaccinated. That changed when her oldest son Stephen began having bad reactions to the flu vaccine around age 5. They tried the flu mist for a couple of years, but Stephen also had adverse reactions in the form of sinus infections. Their pediatrician eventually recommended Stephen skip the flu shot because Jenny’s suspicions were right: Stephen turned out to be allergic to eggs – an ingredient in some vaccines.
Jenny remembers, “We finally decided that it was a reasonable risk for him (Stephen) not to get a flu shot because of his problems. I thought, ‘we'll make sure the rest of the family is vaccinated, and I hope that he (Stephen) does OK.’ ”
Initially, skipping the flu vaccine wasn’t a problem for Stephen, and he didn’t get sick. Jenny says, “The first year he did fine without the flu shot.”
But Stephen’s luck didn’t last long. Jenny explains, “The second year, in 2017, he got sick. I thought, ‘It's just a cold.’ I have four boys, so we have a lot of viruses run in our family.”
Stephen and his younger brother Adrian were both feeling under the weather, but Adrian quickly rebounded. “The next day, Adrian who had gotten his flu shot, was fine. He came running up the stairs and seemed like he was over it already. Stephen could barely come up the stairs because he was so sick. He said that he couldn't talk and we were not sure what was going on. He had really mild symptoms and he wasn't running a fever.”
Stephen says he remembers the early stages of what turned out to be a severe case of the flu. “I couldn't talk because my voice was so quiet. When I tried to talk I couldn’t, so I just didn't. I tried to use hand motions, but that didn't work very well.”
Because of an earlier bout with RSV, Jenny knew a breathing treatment with a nebulizer might open up his lungs, and the next day they took Stephen to his pediatrician who prescribed continued breathing treatments and an additional inhaler, and told them to come back the next day if things were not better.
Jenny says the next morning, it was back to the pediatrician. “My husband took him in the next morning and his oxygen was at 80%. She did another nebulizer treatment and we expected that he would bounce back up 95% oxygen, but he didn't respond to that treatment. The pediatrician told my husband, ‘Here is an oxygen tank you can borrow; drive straight to the E.R..”
Stephen says he clearly recalls arriving at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central’s emergency department. “I remember coming in, and I had to lay in one of their beds. They had to give me an I.V., and they had to test for the flu, by sticking some kind of like swab up my nose, which hurt.
The flu test came back positive. Stephen says, “Then I was moved, and I don't remember much of anything after that.”
Jenny says as his condition continued to decline, he was admitted to the pediatric unit and then the intensive care unit, and that’s when she realized that her son’s health had taken a serious turn for the worse. “I think my attitude really changed from optimism to fear then, because I do have confidence in the healthcare system. When we came in and he was admitted, I remember feeling like, ‘It's OK, we're here and he's going to get great care he's going to be fine.’ Then I saw him continue to decline and be transferred into the I.C.U. and that's when for the first time I realized he could die. I asked and they said, ‘This is really serious.’ I remember them saying, ‘We can't do anything about the flu, all we can do is support him while his body fights the flu.’ That was really terrifying to know not only is he sick, but I could lose my son this quickly from a virus. I just had no idea that it could be that severe.”
In our next story (THE FLU SHOT IS LIKE BATTLE ARMOR FOR YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM), we'll tell you about Stephen's turnaround while in Memorial Hospital and the lengths he is willing to go through now to get his flu shot, which is much more than a simple poke in the arm.
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