By KATIE MILLER
The month of spring break has arrived, another popular travel holiday. As a student preparing to travel to get together with friends or home to see loved ones, it’s important to get a flu shot early. I’d like to share a personal story about why I advocate doing this.
One December 10 years ago, the flu nearly claimed the life of my five-year-old sister, Caroline. A few days before winter break 2012, Caroline came home from school with mild cold symptoms. Within hours, Caroline’s symptoms worsened and breathing became more difficult. In the middle of the night, my parents took her to the local hospital where she was diagnosed with influenza A and double pneumonia. She was given oxygen to help her breathe.
The hospital staff felt they were ill-equipped to deal with this serious pediatric case and Caroline was transferred to a larger local hospital. Her symptoms worsened at the second hospital and she slipped into severe respiratory distress syndrome. She was intubated and the hospital informed my parents that nothing else could be done for her.
She was then airlifted by helicopter to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and placed on an oscillating ventilator. She remained intubated and on a ventilator for nearly two weeks. I spent Christmas in Caroline’s hospital room and ate waffles with the nurses. I decorated her room with paper snowflakes and my parents took turns between hotel and hospital rooms.
On December 30, she was removed from the induced coma. Over the following weeks and months, she Caroline would have to slowly relearn to walk and attend regular physiotherapy sessions. Her recovery was a long and demanding process and she even forced her to go back to school for a year. My younger sister was a sassy, energetic mother who loved to swim, dance and run, and within 36 hours her flu took it all away.
No family should ever experience the trauma of nearly losing a child or sibling to a vaccine-preventable disease. My sister Caroline’s story is an important reminder of how ill you can get when you’re not protected by a flu shot, and how quickly your health can decline. While her story does eventually have a happy ending, there are many more every year who aren’t so lucky.
For this reason, I encourage you and all other college students to get a flu shot to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your friends before traveling or gathering for spring break.
Katie Miller is a Southern Methodist University student and board member of Families Fighting Flu Junior.