“Jim and I were set up on a blind date by a cousin of mine who lived in the same small town he did. I lived 3 hours away at the time, so we got to know each other through phone calls and emails. Our first child, Easton, was born a few years after we were married and our middle child, Irelynd, followed 3 years later. Our youngest, a daughter, came 4 years after and completed our little family.
Ayzlee called her brother her ‘bwest fwend’ and was her big sister’s shadow. She loved Frozen and Olaf and her smile could light up a room. She was always so ‘old’ for her age and the things she did or said, you couldn’t imagine them coming out of a toddler’s mouth. She would always ask how my day was when I got home from work. ‘It was okay, Ayz. How was your day?’ She would throw her hands up in the air and say, ‘It was great!’ She loved to tease and was our ‘bright light.’
December 26th. We live in a small town in Iowa and it was just after Christmas at our house. The kids were still playing with their new toys. Ayzlee loved playing with her big brother Easton and big sister Irelynd when they had the patience for a 3 year old. Easton was 10 years old and Irelynd was 7. Dress-up was her all-time favorite. Everything seemed fine.
December 27th. Ayzlee woke up and told me, ‘My legs hurt so bad and I can’t walk.’ She felt warm. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong, but my husband and I bundled her up and I drove her to the local clinic. I was thinking maybe she had a urinary tract infection.
When we got there, her temperature was 102. The doctor suggested they test for influenza since flu had been going around. I’m a Respiratory Therapist, and to me, she didn’t have any respiratory symptoms like a cough or runny nose. But soon after, her test came back positive for influenza virus types A and B. The doctor told me to expect the ‘typical’ respiratory flu symptoms in the next day or two.
Flu! Now my biggest worry was whether the rest of the family would get it, too.
The doctor sent us home with directions to give her plenty of fluids, Ibuprofen, and Tylenol to lower the fever and Tamiflu, an antiviral medicine. Later that day, her fever broke. I was so relieved and figured the worst was over. But then she started vomiting. It might have been the Tamiflu because it can cause an upset stomach. She rested, but she didn’t have any appetite the whole day. Finally, I got her to eat a little toast and she seemed to perk up. She told me I was a good cooker.
I was worried she still hadn’t quite turned the corner and might be dehydrated from vomiting. I put her to bed on the sofa and curled up with her that night.
December 28th. The next day, Ayzlee didn’t complain about feeling sick. She slept off and on and watched cartoons on the couch. By the evening, she had a confused look and when I took her pulse it was RACING. This was enough to realize something was definitely not right. While Jim stayed at home with Easton and Irelynd, I took Ayzlee to the ER. I was thinking, she’s just dehydrated and needs fluids. This will be a quick trip. I had just returned home from taking my oldest daughter to dance practice. Irelynd never got to see her sister alive again.
In a way it was quick. We were in the ER with doctors and nurses around us. Ayzlee was starting to look really out of it. She actually asked, ‘Where’s my mommy?’ while I was standing right beside her in the ER. Seeing her like that made me feel kind of panicky, like this was definitely more than dehydration, but never thought what the outcome could be.
The medical team asked if I preferred she stay there for observation or to transfer Ayzlee to a specialty hospital in the city. I chose Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, about an hour away. Her breathing was steady, so when I called Jim, I told him to stay home and that we would both be fine. I rode in the front of the transport vehicle while a trauma nurse and a paramedic sat in back with Ayzlee and watched the movie ‘Frozen’ to distract her during the ride. They’d call up to the front every so often to reassure me everything was okay.
It seemed like almost as soon as we got to the new hospital my little girl got restless and started having a really hard time breathing.
We had to put her on oxygen and hold a mask over her face. I held the little mask in place. During this time, with so much activity around her, she didn’t even cry. I couldn’t believe how brave she was.
You’re thinking, ‘It’s just the flu,’ and I’d never really been that worried about the flu before. We’d all had our flu shots. Even though this was a bad flu year, my biggest fear was still that the rest of our family might get it. It never crossed my mind in a million years that my beautiful, healthy three year old would be here fighting for her life.
I kept telling myself, ‘It’s just the flu! It’s going to be okay.’ Everything will be okay. Nothing bad is going to happen.
December 29th. We were in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). At about 4 a.m., I had been cuddled up next to Ayzlee, trying to calm her down so she could get some sleep, but she got restless. I looked at the machines monitoring her vital signs. Her heart rate was way up. I got a nurse who went to find a doctor. My medical training kicked in and I realized her lungs needed help. I knew she was in distress and it was affecting the rest of her body. I demanded that Ayzlee be intubated because she was working so hard to breathe. I had seen it numerous times at work, but nothing really prepares you for when it’s your own child.
I was still at the hospital on my own as I truly never thought anything ‘bad’ was going to happen. We’d left the house the day before seeking some extra fluids. Everything was happening so fast.
I sat there at Ayzlee’s side and I saw her reach out both arms, as if she was trying to sit up, which she clearly didn’t have the energy to do. She seemed to be reaching out to someone. She started telling me, ‘Mommy, I done. I done, I so tired!’ I was absolutely shocked. This is not something you ever expect to hear from a 3-year-old and never from my own child! I hugged her and told her I loved her. Then I stepped out into the waiting area so the doctors could perform their procedure. I was telling myself the ventilator will help her rest. It’ll be okay. I’ll see her again in a minute. Her words to me bothered me and they still do.
Facing the worst:
I saw medical personnel rushing in and out and no one was telling me anything. Then, I saw the clergy. I couldn’t bear to acknowledge what was running through my mind. After what felt like an eternity, Jim got there and they brought us into the room. One of the doctors explained that while they were intubating Ayzlee, her heart had stopped. Every time they stopped compressions and helping her breathe, she would have no heart rate.
They asked me if they should stop compressions. I could barely talk. I was crying and I felt selfish because I knew they couldn’t save her, but I pleaded with them to keep trying. The team was able to get her heart started again briefly and Jim and I had a few moments to tell her we loved her. The hospital staff wrapped Ayzlee in a blanket and let us hold her. She died in my arms. And we were just there with her alone. We were both in shock.
Jim had left our other kids with my cousin and we made the decision they should have the opportunity to say goodbye to their sister. I think this was possibly one of the hardest parts of the whole horrible ordeal for our family. Jim’s boss and her husband drove my cousin and the kids to the hospital so they could see Ayzlee and tell her whatever they wanted. The kids weren’t told until Jim and I could explain in person. We wanted to be the ones to tell them. Irelynd cried uncontrollably. Easton said he started to lose feeling in his legs. This is an unbearable situation no family should have to face.
One thing we want people to know is that we have no regrets about the flu vaccine. Flu vaccine is modern medicine based on science. We know no medicine is 100% effective. We would have never forgiven ourselves if we hadn’t given our daughter everything available to save her. We are thankful to have two healthy kids who, with their flu shots, weathered the flu season without getting sick.
We are sharing Ayzlee’s story to increase awareness about what flu can do to a healthy child. Our advice is to vaccinate your children and yourselves against flu every year. If you think your child has the flu, call the doctor or head to urgent care or the emergency room. Don’t wait because you believe it’s ‘just the flu.'”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amber McCarthy. If you would like additional information or resources about the flu, please visit Familiesfightingflu.org. Submit your own story here. 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
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