We had just passed the holidays at our home in Sioux Falls, SD. Me, my husband Jared, son Ethan, and our daughter Gianna—I’d say we had a pretty happy and active family life. At two-and-a-half, our youngest was constantly on the go with a larger than life personality. She was happy, and curious about everything. Gianna was a girl who had no fear, following around her big brother, who was 10 years older. The two of them inseparable when he was home and she was his biggest fan at his sporting events. She took charge of every room she walked into and made sure people knew she was the boss.
First Signs of Illness
On Jan 8, 2015, Thursday evening I picked up Gianna from day care and she felt a little warm so I gave her Tylenol. The next morning, on Friday, I noticed her lungs sounded a bit rattily. I knew flu was going around so I took her to the pediatrician that morning. They tested her and found she did have the H3N2 influenza virus. She got Tamiflu (antiviral medicine) and we started her on it. After that, we went home. Gianna was tired and laid around the house watching cartoons and not really eating or drinking too much.
She went to bed with me at about 8:30pm and fell asleep. She woke up at midnight coughing and moaning a bit. She also felt warm so again I gave her Tylenol and patted her back to break up the crud in her lungs. I took her back to bed with me and cuddled up with her. At some point, I heard her little voice calling out “Mom, mom, mom.” I was sleepy and told her, “everything is going to be ok, we just need the medicine to kick in”. Later she was quiet and I thought the medicine was working and she was breathing easier.
Your worst nightmare
Something woke me at 3:00am. Gianna was next to me. She was gone. I felt she was cold and not breathing. I gave my baby girl CPR for five minutes until the emergency team could get there. About 10 to 20 first-responders were at the house trying to revive her. Jared, Ethan, and I were hurried off to the basement for what seems like an eternity.
They were able to get her heart started again with the defibrillator and a ventilator after almost 30 minutes. But there was still a somber kind of a feeling as they prepared us all to go to the hospital, like they knew but couldn’t tell us that that this would not have a good ending. The ambulance left but I never heard a siren. I thanked them as we were leaving. One said, “I wish we could have done more.” I told her that I was just happy they got her heart started and she hugged me and cried. The three of us got into a police car to get to the hospital but again there was no rush or sirens.
At the hospital
Once at the hospital, the medical team ran a lot of tests, including a brain CT scan. What they found was only a little bit of movement in one of Gianna’s eyes and no fluid in parts of her brain where there should be fluid. The doctor stood there talking to us. He told us that if this were his daughter, he would “let her go.”
All I could think was that this isn’t really happening. This ISN’T really happening. My husband said we can’t let her go on with a hope that if she came home she would be in a vegetative state, so we agreed that it was time to let her go. We sat in absolute shock, just numb and time was standing still. It was like we were stuck in some horrible dream.
My 12-year old son started screaming and sobbing, “What am I supposed to do? My sister is dead. How am I supposed to live without her?” It was enough to rip my heart out.
Basically, there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. We decided to keep her connected to the life-support machine long enough for a few more family members to come to the hospital to and say goodbye. After that, we had the hospital disconnected the machine and her heart stopped very soon after that. My healthy, beautiful two-year old had died, with little warning and in less than 2 days, from the flu.
Our family’s message
If we could go back in time, we wish we would have gotten Gianna her flu vaccine. We would like to think that we left no stone unturned. The rest of the family got theirs, but somehow we just didn’t get around to bringing her in for hers. It’s a heavy burden to bear wondering if her death might have been preventable. We’d like to tell other families to take flu seriously. It may look like the common cold at first, but flu viruses can turn deadly. In our case, there was really nothing we could do to treat our daughter. The flu came on so fast and so strong that the antiviral medicine wasn’t enough to help her.
We hope that sharing Gianna’s Story will help other parents understand that it’s important to do everything possible to protect their children from dangers like flu. Flu shots are so easy compared to what you stand to lose. For Gianna’s sake, we encourage everyone in the family to get a flu shot every year.