‘Ethan screamed, ‘NO! How am I supposed to live without her?’ He hit the wall and ran out of the room. She’d gone too long without oxygen.’: Girl loses life to influenza, ‘We miss and love her so much’

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“When my husband Jared and I were married, my son Ethan was 8 years old. We had been trying for a baby for well over a year as we both knew we wanted to expand our family. Shortly after the wedding, we began a series of fertility treatments. We finally gave up after nine heartbreaking months and succumbed to the fact that we would always be a family of 3. Four months later, we went on a family camping trip and I felt sick the entire weekend. I wanted to take a pregnancy test, but I did not want to see another ‘Not Pregnant.’

I waited a few more days and I still felt nauseated, so I bit the bullet and bought a test. The next morning while my husband was in the shower, I took it. I was doing my hair for what felt like the longest 3 minutes of my life. I looked at the test as he opened the shower curtain. I looked up with tears in my eyes and said, ‘We’re pregnant. We’re having a baby.’ Two and a half years and we were finally pregnant. We waited a while before telling Ethan because we wanted to be ‘out of the woods’ just in case something bad happened. When we told him, he was over the moon excited! Ethan liked being an only child but desperately wanted to be a big brother.

My pregnancy was uneventful and easy. The day we found out we were having a girl, I cried and cried. I don’t know if I was more scared or excited to be raising a girl. Either way, it didn’t matter because we were having a baby and she was healthy. We told Ethan later that evening and showed him the ultrasound pictures. His response was priceless: ‘So, this is the new girl?’

Fast forward to the end of May, Ethan turned 10. The new girl was due in about 2 weeks. A couple of days later, we were watching the Celtic’s game. I was having a few light contractions but blew them off as Braxton Hicks since they weren’t painful and finally stopped. Then Jared said, ‘Are you really going to make me go to work tomorrow?’ I said, ‘Yes, and don’t stay up too late.’

On June 4th at nearly 2:00 a.m., my water broke. I sat up in bed and said, ‘It’s time to go, the baby is coming. My water broke, we have to go!’ Jared and Ethan were both confused and out of it. Ethan even put on two sweatshirts to go to the hospital. Once we arrived at the hospital, I was checked in immediately. The nurse was very casual and calm. I was growing less calm as the pressure increased. The nurse said she was going to go and try to find out how long it would before an anesthesiologist could come up. I asked her to check me before she left because I had repeatedly told her the baby was coming.

She checked and, sure enough, I was told, ‘The baby’s head is right there.’ I looked at my husband and said, ‘I’m not getting an epidural.’ He had nothing to say and looked scared. The next half hour was very hectic. Nurses and doctors were everywhere. At one point, they lost her heartbeat for a bit. We all started to panic. Luckily, she was right there. A few moments after, she was born screaming at 3:20 a.m. I told Ethan to go over and talk to her to see if he could calm her down. As soon as he started talking, Gianna stopped crying and stared at him. They were inseparable.

Courtesy of Angie Wehrkamp
Courtesy of Angie Wehrkamp

Gianna was a fussy baby for the first few months, so we all took turns holding her and asking her not to cry. Ethan didn’t care if she cried; he just loved her. He would even get up in the middle of the night to change, feed, and put her back to bed. He said, ‘You can go back to bed mom, I know you are tired.’ He has the biggest heart and would do anything for ‘the new girl.’ Their bond grew as they did. Gianna loved doing everything Ethan did. Whether it was playing basketball, baseball, video games or even riding a motorcycle, she had to be right there. Ethan always found a way to include her.

Courtesy of Angie Wehrkamp
Courtesy of Angie Wehrkamp
Courtesy of Angie Wehrkamp
Courtesy of Angie Wehrkamp

As Gianna got a little older, it was clear she was going to be a leader. She was very authoritative and knew how to get what she wanted. If she wanted out of the house, she would push a barstool across the kitchen, climb up, and unlock the deadbolt. She was smart. She was also very funny. She loved scaring people and being scared. Except for the one time Grandma Cindy jumped out and said, ‘BOO!’ Gianna was not expecting it, so she screamed and ran away. She then turned around and said to grandma, ‘No, no, grandma, you’re mean!’

Courtesy of Angie Wehrkamp

The winter of 2014-2015 started like most others. It was cold and viruses were flying around everywhere. We are a healthy family. I get my flu shot every year at work and Ethan gets his at school. Jared was able to get one at work that year as well. Gianna, however, was only 2 so we would have had to make an appointment at the clinic. Gianna was always healthy, attended a small in-home daycare, and was usually only home after that. We didn’t really feel like she was as high of a risk as the rest of us of getting sick, so we didn’t make her flu shot a priority.

Courtesy of Angie Wehrkamp

On January 8th, 2015, I picked Gianna up from daycare just like every other day. I noticed she was a bit warm. She had just woken up from a nap, so I didn’t put much more thought into it. By that evening she was running a low-grade fever but still acting like herself.

On the morning of January 9th, 2015, Gianna was running a low-grade fever but also sounded like she had a bad cold. She sounded very croupy. I knew the flu was in our area as my husband’s old high school counselor, whom was 40 and healthy, passed away from Influenza A just 2 weeks prior.

Later that morning, I took Gianna to the clinic where she was diagnosed with Influenza A, H3N2. I was scared, but the doctor had reassured me due to my quick action, she would be fine. He said, ‘Today is the sickest she will be. Once the anti-virals kick in, she will be on the mend.’ I picked up her prescription and went home. The remainder of the day, Gianna watched all her favorite cartoons including Mickey Mouse, Dora, and Frozen. She didn’t have a lot of energy but never complained about anything.

Courtesy of Angie Wehrkamp

That night for supper we had nachos and she put the black olives on her fingers just like always. She was still croupy sounding, but her fever was under control with meds. I took her to bed with me so I could keep a close eye on her. My husband agreed it was what was best and slept on the couch.

Around midnight, I woke up and Gianna’s fever had spiked. I gave her more ibuprofen, a drink, and we went back to bed. I patted her back until we both fell back to sleep. At one point, I heard her call out for me: ‘Mom, Mom, Mom.’ I pulled her in close and told her everything was going to be alright and we just need the medicine to kick in.

Courtesy of Angie Wehrkamp

Around 3:00 a.m. on January 10th, 2015, I woke up and thought, ‘Finally! She isn’t struggling to breathe. The medicine is working.’ I lay there a moment longer and got a sick gut feeling. I said her name and heard nothing. I lifted her arm; it was limp and fell. She wasn’t breathing. She was in my arms and not breathing. I was sick. I screamed for my husband. He and Ethan came running as I turned on the lights and she was blue.

We were panicked and shaking as we called 911. They talked to Jared while I gave her CPR for about 5 minutes until the EMT’s arrived. Once they arrived, we were rushed off to the basement, away from the chaos. They were asking us a slew of questions. To this day, I don’t remember what they asked. I was focused on what was happening with my baby. There were a lot of people running around and a computer voice that will never leave my head, ‘Three, two, one, ventilate.’

After a half hour, they were able to get her little heart beating again. They asked if one of us wanted to ride in the ambulance, but we wanted to stay together and with Ethan because he was scared. As the final ambulance crew was leaving, I thanked one of the EMT’s for everything they did. She said, ‘I wish we could have done more.’ What did that mean? Her heart was beating. She was perfectly healthy before this. The three of us climbed into a police car and headed to the hospital. We immediately started calling family because we didn’t know what was going to happen. While in the police car, I noticed we didn’t have any sirens on and we obeyed all traffic lights, etc. There was no rush to get us to the hospital. I was starting to understand what the EMT meant.

Upon arrival at the hospital, we were led into a hallway of the ER. We were not allowed in the room as there were several doctors and nurses working on her. After a short time, we were taken to a PICU waiting room while they took Gianna for a CT Scan. Once she was in the PICU, we were allowed to see her again. There were tubes and wires everywhere. Her eyes were nonresponsive. Oddly, she looked taller to me.

A couple of hours later, her doctor asked us to come into a small room with him. The three of us and my mom went. He showed us the scan of her brain. He said, ‘Do you see here where these parts are dark and all touching? Those parts are supposed to be white.’ He continued to say she had gone far too long without oxygen, therefore her brain had substantial swelling. She was not going to survive this. Then he said, ‘This is where I give you the if-this-was-my daughter speech. It’s time to let her go.’ Ethan screamed, ‘NO! How am I supposed to live without her?’ He hit the wall and ran out of the room.

Courtesy of Angie Wehrkamp

Seeing this, the doctor told us if by chance there was a miracle and she survived, there would be truly little brain activity. It was our decision and he would proceed how we wanted to. It was at that point my husband and I agreed. It was time to let her go. That is not the life we would want for her. That is not who she was.

A few hours later after family and close friends came, I held her along with my husband and son, and for the second time that day, she died in my arms.

Courtesy of Angie Wehrkamp

Gianna came into our lives in a blink of an eye and left just as fast. Since her passing, we went through several more rounds of fertility treatments. We have decided to continue as a family of three on earth and one in heaven. The continued heartbreak of trying for another baby was just too much.

Courtesy of Angie Wehrkamp
Courtesy of Angie Wehrkamp

When Gianna passed away, I had no idea that healthy children die from the flu every year. I had no idea the flu vaccine doesn’t just help prevent you from getting the flu, but it helps prevent serious complications or death from the flu. I became a proud advocate for Families Fighting Flu in 2015 and I am now the Secretary. I share my story, along with other families just like mine, to help prevent this from happening to you or someone you know. This is my way of honoring the life of our little spitfire, Gianna, whom we love and miss so much.”

Courtesy of Angie Wehrkamp

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Angie Wehrkamp of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. If you would like additional information or resources about the flu, please visit Familiesfightingflu.org. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more about the flu:

‘The doctor said, ‘Not to worry. It’s just the flu.’ His throat started fluttering. They worked feverishly on his little body. I couldn’t watch.’: Mom urges ‘we need to do better’ after losing son to flu

‘Mommy, I done. I done, I so tired!’ ‘Should we stop compressions?’ I pleaded with them. They wrapped her in a blanket, let us say goodbye.’: Mom loses daughter to flu, ‘This is an unbearable situation no family should face’

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