‘I pulled back the shower curtain in shock. Her eyes were sunken in, her lips blue. ‘Your daughter will likely pass.’ I sat with my head in my hands. ‘Why won’t anyone look at me?!’: Girl survives flu after 93-day battle in hospital, ‘Her health will never be the same’

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“’Your daughter more likely will pass than live throughout the night,’ the doctor updated us. It was my first time hearing those words. However, my husband and several of our family members had been told earlier in the day that her chances of not surviving were greater than surviving. When the doctor and nurse walked out of the conference room, my husband would not look at me. I looked at the rest of my family, they would not look at me. They got up from the table and left the room and I finally said, almost yelling, ‘Why won’t anyone look at me?’

I sat with my head in my hands, tears streaming down my face, saying, ‘How did we get here?’ I just kept asking questions. ‘What is wrong with my daughter?’ ‘Why can’t they heal her?’

Our daughter Madi was a healthy, beautiful, smart, kind-hearted 12-year-old. She had big brown eyes and freckles that I would tell her were her angel kisses. She was an athlete, a granddaughter, a niece, a cousin, a friend, and our only child.

Courtesy of Shelle Allen

Madi had been sick most of the weekend with a fever, body aches, uncomfortableness, and a cough. My husband and I thought it was just a cold or maybe even the flu. We kept giving her over the counter medication, and it seemed to help with the fever. That morning around 6:30 a.m. I helped Madi into the shower, thinking it would make her feel better. I stepped away to get her a towel and when I pulled the shower curtain back, I was in complete utter shock. Her lips were blue, eyes sunken in, and her color was pale and grey. I got her out of the shower, sat her on her bed, and told her I would be right back. I walked quickly into the other room, called my husband to tell him to hurry home, and that we needed to get Madi to the hospital quickly. He said, ‘I thought we were waiting till the doctor’s office opened.’ I told him, ‘There’s no time. Get home quickly.’

By the time I got Madi dressed, he was home from the store. We put her in the car and went straight to the hospital. The ride was short, less than 2 minutes away. We arrived at the hospital; Madi walked into the emergency room, leaning on me. Her breathing became labored and they automatically took her back into the triage room and got her vitals. Once they got her in an ER room, they placed her on oxygen. I do not remember what her temperature, blood pressure, or her oxygen level was, but everyone was still acting very calm, so I did not worry.

They started her on fluids, took blood work, and did a chest x-ray. As we waited, I kept giving my mom updates on Madi. She asked if she should be transferred from our local hospital to a bigger hospital about 30 minutes away. My husband and I were unsure what to do and as I hung up from my mom, the doctor came in and said Madi had double pneumonia. I asked the doctor, ‘What should we do?’ Still, no one was in panic mode.

We decided to transfer her to a bigger hospital. My husband rode in the ambulance with her so I could run home and grab clothes for us. They told me not to hurry, just take my time. Madi was still alert and talking, so I told her I would be right behind. I called my mom and asked her to go to the hospital and meet Madi and Steve there. I said, ‘She’s never been in an ambulance or even a hospital before and I am sure she is scared.’ Once I got to the hospital where Madi was transferred, things went downhill fast.

Courtesy of Shelle Allen

I walked into the waiting room and I was automatically upset with my husband he left Madi alone. My last words to him before they got in the ambulance were, ‘Don’t leave her side.’ I asked, ‘Where is Madi? Why aren’t you in the room with her?’ My mom said, ‘Shelle, Madi is really sick.’ I said, ‘I know, she has double pneumonia.’ Then I looked at my husband and I could tell he had tears in his eyes. Before I could say anything to him, the doctor came in and my mom said, ‘This is Madi’s mom, Shelle.’

The doctor said, ‘Your daughter is in respiratory distress and we have started her on the CPAP machine.’ I had no clue what that even was. She explained it was to help her breathe, however she said, ‘If Madi does not respond to it, then we will have to intubate her.’ I just stood in shock and said to the doctor, ‘I don’t understand. She only has pneumonia.’ The doctor explained there was more going on with her body and they were running tests to find out what was going on.

Fast forward 10 hours…Madi was intubated and her body started to shut down. The doctor came into the waiting room; by this time it had filled up with all her loved ones. Her basketball coach and her best friend asked to talk to me and Steve privately. We went into the room and were told there was nothing more they could do at that hospital for Madi. I just sat there… not knowing what to say or do. We still had no definite answers on what was making her so sick.

The doctor told us she had made a call to St. Louis Children’s Hospital (2 hours away) and they were coming to evaluate her. Once they got there, I remember looking at one of the flight nurses and saying, ‘Please help my daughter.’ It took them 3 hours, but they finally were able to get her transferred to their bed to head to the helicopter.

Before they left with Madi, I begged them to go by her family. By this time, it was 3 a.m. and I was afraid even though they did not say it. I knew in my heart things were bad and she may not make the trip alive. Steve and I walked with them as they went by her Papa, Mawmaw, Aunt Bobo, Uncle Jake, and many others, who were all were saying, ‘We love you Madi.’ We kissed her and then she was taken out of our sight.

We made the 2-hour trip and every time my husband’s phone rang, my heart stopped. They called and told us they had made it and explained to us that Madi needed to go into surgery right away to be placed on ECMO. By this time, Madi’s kidneys had shut down, her lungs were extremely sick, and she could not breathe on her own. They wanted to place her on ECMO so machines could do the work for her organs, and her body could rest.

Courtesy of Shelle Allen

Once we got to the hospital and many hours later, the doctors finally explained to us that Madi had Influenza B and MRSA pneumonia. I remember saying to the doctor, ‘That is just the flu.’ He asked, ‘Did Madi get her flu shot?’ I said, ‘No, but we normally get it. The doctor’s office did not have the vaccination available when we did her sports physical.’ I put it on my ‘to do’ list, but never made it a priority. A healthy child does not die from the flu, or at least that is what I thought.

Our daughter Madi survived. It was touch and go and we had many scares, but after 93 days in the hospital, she was able to walk out and return home. She is now 22 years old and just graduated from Hannibal La-Grange University where she played soccer all 4 years. Her health has never and will never be the same. She suffers from lung disease, asthma, and has a chronic cough. She is prone to pneumonia, takes several medications, nebulizer, and does vest treatments twice a day. The lower lobes of her lungs are permanently damaged and she does not have air movement in them. Our concern every winter is trying to prevent pneumonia and more scar tissue in her lungs.

Courtesy of Shelle Allen


Courtesy of Shelle Allen

What I want others to know is the importance of flu vaccinations. I know it is not 100%. However, 1% of protection is better than none. I believe in vaccinations, but I was not educated on how important they are. I had to learn how to advocate for my child and that is something I was not aware of. Yes, I am her mother and I am her protector, but I did not know how to advocate and that is important. Ask your doctor questions until you completely understand. They may have to explain it to me 5 times and that’s okay. I am no longer afraid to ask questions and more questions.

Madi and I are both now part of Families Fighting Flu, a national nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting children, families, and communities against the flu. We honor our loved ones by educating and advocating, and by doing so, our hope is that no other family will have a story like ours.”

Courtesy of Shelle Allen
Courtesy of Shelle Allen

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Shelle Allen of Concord, Illinois. You can follow her journey on Facebook. If you would like additional information or resources about the flu, please visit Familiesfightingflu.orgSubmit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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