Flu complications cause teen to fight for life

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Influenza is widespread in Kentucky, medical professionals warn virus is serious

By Mallory Bilger


Taylorsville’s Rebecca Hedges knows exactly how serious the flu can be. Right now, her daughter, 17-year-old Jordyn Hedges, is lying in a hospital bed at Kosair Children’s Hospital in stable but critical condition due to complications from the flu, which she contracted around  Christmas.
Doctors have told Rebecca that her daughter will not be released until March or April and she is not expected to ever regain full lung capacity. It’s a reality that hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
“She was sick for about six days and they kept telling us it was a bronchial infection,” Hedges said. “It took them saline washing her sinuses to find out it was the flu because the regular flu swab would not pick it up. It kept picking up negative.”
Jordyn went into the hospital on Dec. 28 around midnight with shortness of breath and a fever around 104 degrees. She was immediately hospitalized and has been on a ventilator since Dec. 29. Rebecca said Jordyn is suffering from complications associated with the flu including double pneumonia, hardening of the lungs, kidney and liver complications. Rebecca said Jordyn initially tested positive for influenza type A and also contracted the H1N1 strain, which was highly publicized in 2009 as the swine flu. She is expected to live, but Rebecca said her daughter’s life will be largely different following her illness.
“Jordyn’s lifestyle is completely changed,” Rebecca said. “She’s going to be very restricted on walking, just everything. She will have lots of shortness of breath.”
While contracting the flu doesn’t normally result in complications as serious as Jordyn has experienced, Family Nurse Practitioner Darline Caldwell of Baptist Medical Associates in Taylorsville said it is important that people remember that influenza — which is currently widespread in Kentucky — is serious and can be deadly. She said her office has seen influxes of patients complaining of flu-like symptoms and that there are several strains circulating right now.
“It attacks quickly,” Caldwell said, reiterating the fact that anyone with flu-like symptoms should seek medical attention quickly.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, flu symptoms include feeling feverish or a fever of 100 degrees or higher, a cough and/or sore throat, a runny or stuff nose, headaches and/or body aches, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea.
Caldwell said anyone experiencing such symptoms should get to a doctor quickly, preferably within the first 48 hours. She said some antiviral medications can cut a patient’s time of illness in half.
The H1N1 strain is of particular concern to doctors this flu season because it tends to hit teenagers and children more severely than other strains.
According to Kentucky Health News, an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, one theory why H1N1 is harder on young people is that seniors have already been exposed to the strain and have more immunity, Wendy Keown, director of community outreach at Lincoln Trail District Health Department, told Kelly Cantrall of The News-Enterprise in Elizabethtown.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that young people might be the ones most affected by the flu this year, Cantrall reported.
Nurses working in the Spencer County School District said last week they have not had widespread reports of students suffering from the flu, but there have been some reported cases.
Spencer County Middle School nurse Kathy Dipple said attendance appeared to be pretty steady.
“I don’t think the attendance is any lower than it would be on any average day,” she said. “There have been some reported flu cases, but not as hard-hit as we were last year.”
Taylorsville Elementary nurse Jennifer Goodlett urged parents to call in to the schools and report when a child has tested positive for the flu so administrators can keep track of how the illness is effecting the local student population.
Dipple reminded students, parents and all community members that it’s still not too late for a flu shot.
“There’s not a shortage,” Dippel said of the vaccine.
That vaccination is one that Rebecca Hedges now wishes she and her family had gotten before Jordyn became ill. While the flu shot does not guarantee complete protection from the flu, it is the best protection available according to physicians.
“We did not (get it) at first,” Rebecca said of the vaccination. “But now every one of us have our flu shot.”
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone 6 months of age or older should get the flu vaccine, especially the following individuals:
• People who are at high risk of developing serious complications, such as pneumonia, if they get sick with the flu
• People who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease
• Pregnant women
• Children younger than 5, especially those younger than 2
• People 65 and older
• People who live with, or care for, others who are at high risk of developing serious complications
• Household contacts and caregivers of people with certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease
• Household contacts and caregivers of infants less than 6 months old
• Health care personnel
Caldwell reminded individuals that the earlier you get the flu shot, the better, because it takes around 10 days to become fully effective.
According to the CDC, anyone with the flu can be contagious beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to seven days after becoming sick. Caldwell reminded anyone with the flu to get to the doctor. Following the doctor’s visit, patients should stay home, keep your home well ventilated, stay hydrated and rest.
“If you’ll just crack a window a half an inch, the hot air will be pulled out quickly,” Caldwell said, noting that you can ventilate your home room by room, which will help eliminate airborne droplets that help spread the flu.
“This virus cannot live in the cold,” she said.
Rebecca Hedges said her daughter is proof that the flu should be taken seriously.
“I grew up in the ‘70s. Used to, you’d get the flu, you ate chicken soup and got a shot of penicillin. Now there’s so many different types and the secondary infections that come along with it that people don’t even realize are there,” she said.
Jordyn Hedges will hopefully return home in March or April, but she will need intensive physical and speech therapy, her mother said.