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Summer 2021 - Vaccines

Influenza: A Patient’s Perspective

Patient who recovered from flu

IN 2016, Jewel Rogers was a healthy 41-year-old wife, mother and grandmother. But all of that changed in late March of that year, when Jewel and her husband, Jason, both became ill. She was diagnosed with acute bronchitis and given antibiotics at her local urgent care, but two days later Jewel’s symptoms worsened, and she made the wise decision to head to the emergency room. When her influenza (flu) test came back negative, she was once again diagnosed with bronchitis and sent home. Unfortunately, over the course of the next few days, her condition deteriorated, and she returned to the hospital for further tests. “This time, I was diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted to the hospital for treatment due to low oxygen saturation, fever and difficulty breathing,” she says. “After two days of standard treatment, I was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) for additional care.”

Based on her worsening condition in the ICU, the medical staff quickly decided Jewel needed to be transferred to a larger medical facility. The next day, she was transferred to Fort Wayne Lutheran Hospital in Indiana. There, the medical team determined it would be best to place her in a rotating hospital bed that would put her in a prone position to improve her ability to breathe. As her health continued to fail, she was eventually intubated and put into a medically induced coma. That was when the medical team at Fort Wayne transferred her to the ICU at University of Michigan as a last-resort effort to save her life. The staff told Jewel’s stunned family that despite their lifesaving efforts, she was not likely to survive.

Once she was admitted at the University of Michigan, a sample from Jewel’s lungs showed she had in fact been suffering from complications of H1N1 influenza. This was the first time she was accurately diagnosed with flu. Over the course of the next few weeks, Jewel received numerous interventions that included inserting a tracheostomy tube through her windpipe to improve her breathing. Slowly, over the course of the next seven weeks, Jewel turned a corner and her prognosis began to improve. “My memory of my time at the University of Michigan Medical Center is very vague,” says Jewel. “I really only remember the last week of being there, and those memories aren’t even clear. At one point close to the end of my stay, I recall having a team of nurses who took me outside for a short time. They said it would do me good to see the sun and the tulips that were blooming. I also remember them getting me ready for the four-hour transport to the rehabilitation facility that would put me thankfully closer to my home and family.”

Once at the rehabilitation facility, Jewel began a rigorous four-week program of physical and occupational therapy that was needed to help her regain enough strength to perform even the most basic daily tasks. “It was a very slow process,” she says. “After being sedated for so long, I was very weak. I had to gain enough strength back in my legs to stand on my own and then to take steps. It was a chore to even dress myself or brush my teeth. While I was there, I remained on high-flow oxygen, and I remember I had to have help just to pull myself up in bed.”

Ten weeks after it was initially placed, Jewel had her tracheostomy tube removed, and a short time later, she was finally discharged to go home. But her health problems were far from over. Today, Jewel still suffers complications from her horrific bout with the flu. She often experiences shortness of breath and requires oxygen at night when lying in bed. Additionally, after spending three months in five different hospitals, she feels anxious around people who are visibly ill, and she is uncomfortable in small, enclosed spaces. “My health is 90 percent better, but vigorous exercise is still very taxing on my lungs,” Jewel says. “My lungs remain damaged and may never be back to what they were prior to my sickness.”

After surviving the flu and its severe complications, Jewel and her family have become advocates of the annual flu vaccination. “Prior to this experience, I had no clue just how serious the flu could be. I did not get the flu vaccine. I just didn’t think it was important,” says Jewel. “My advice to someone who remains unsure about the flu vaccine is do your research. Talk to those who have experienced it first-hand. Talk to their families to see what it was like for them when they thought they could lose their loved one.”

Trudie Mitschang
Trudie Mitschang is a contributing writer for BioSupply Trends Quarterly magazine.