Sunday, January 21, 2018
Health

Flu victim's father mourns daughter, urges public to get vaccines

DADE CITY — Tim Harrelson can still see his daughter's face. Above the oxygen mask, her eyes looked listless, like someone barely clinging to life.

When the breathing treatment didn't work, doctors suggested sedation. A couple of days on a ventilator would help her breathe and fight the infection that had given her a 102-degree fever for three days.

"She begged them to put her on the ventilator," said Harrelson, a Dade City police sergeant. "That kind of floored me."

Harrelson bent to give his daughter a kiss, but his bulletproof vest and the bed rail got in the way. They touched foreheads and exchanged "I love yous" before Harrelson left to change clothes. That was 9:30 a.m. Nov. 4. Four hours later, his 27-year-old daughter was dead, despite prayers he and his wife offered.

"We begged," he said. "It was like Jesus was standing right there beside us."

A man of deep faith, Harrelson said he doesn't ask why.

But he does ask how.

"We go from breathing treatments and home from the hospital to death in a matter of hours. How did this happen?"

• • •

Tests from the Centers for Disease Control show that Holly Harrelson died of complications from the H1N1 influenza virus, nicknamed swine flu because it first developed in pigs. In 2009, it caused a worldwide epidemic. Labs scrambled to develop special vaccines since it surfaced after that season's flu shots were distributed. Four years later, it has become part of the regular seasonal vaccine.

Harrelson said he doesn't think his daughter got the 2013 vaccine. Neither did he. The last time he got a flu shot, he said, it made him "sicker than sick."

His daughter, he said, was healthy and had no underlying health problems. A busy stay-at-home mom, she was always chauffeuring her kids to and from sports and other activities. She and her longtime boyfriend talked of getting married and moving to a bigger house. She wanted to go to college. She smoked, but not heavily. She also had a stubborn streak.

"I was always on her to quit smoking," he said. Her last day alive, she told him, "I guess I'm done smoking now."

At the time he thought she was joking, but now he wonders if she knew how close to death she really was.

He doesn't know where she got the flu.

About a week earlier, he said, he and his wife had been ill with fevers, aches and coughs, but the fevers were low-grade. Harrelson's children, ages 9, 8 and 4, had also suffered cold symptoms but were back in school.

"We all just felt like crap," he said.

The day Holly fell ill, she texted her dad that she had gone to the hospital but expected to be home soon. She asked that the kids be picked up from school.

"I wish I had talked to her in person," he said. If he had, he said, he would have been able to tell she was worse off, more like the message she conveyed on her Facebook page.

"I feel like I'm riding shotgun with death," it said.

• • •

After Holly died, Harrelson wasted no time getting a flu shot. Neither did his wife. She also took the kids — Lester, Levi and Jaylynn — for vaccines.

"It makes me so mad when people say the flu shot is a hoax," he said. "Who knows if it could have saved my daughter's life?"

For anyone who comes up and asks how they can help, Harrelson has one answer: Get the flu shot. Unlike shots from years ago, the ones offered now are made from dead viruses.

"They can't make you sick," he said.

He said he still breaks down. Not a day goes by that something doesn't remind him of Holly. A veteran police officer, he said he has new empathy for those on the receiving end of death notifications. "There's nothing anyone can say," he said.

Residents of this small town where he has spent all 49 years of his life have wrapped their arms around the family. Harrelson said his home was filled with food, though he didn't eat any for four days. People have donated money to a trust fund at Wells Fargo for the kids. Beef 'O' Brady's sponsored a fundraiser.

"That's what I love about these little communities," he said.

Comments
Expect some pain. That’s what hospitals are starting to tell patients as concern spreads over opioids

Expect some pain. That’s what hospitals are starting to tell patients as concern spreads over opioids

Doctors at some of the largest U.S. hospital chains admit they went overboard with opioids to make people as pain-free as possible, and now they shoulder part of the blame for the nation’s opioid crisis. In an effort to be part of the cure, they’ve b...
Published: 01/19/18
It’s flu season, and how: Here’s what you need to know

It’s flu season, and how: Here’s what you need to know

Cristi Fryberger, a fifth-grade teacher, was headed back for the first day of classes at St. Petersburg Christian School after the Christmas break but didn’t feel well. She left a couple of hours later and went to an urgent care clinic, where a swab ...
Published: 01/19/18
This 66-year-old is about to run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents

This 66-year-old is about to run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents

When Robert Owens’s father was 75, he gave his son some advice. "He said, ‘You know, son, the sad part is when you get old they just put you on a shelf and you become irrelevant. Fight to stay relevant. Fight to stay in the game, otherwise they will ...
Published: 01/18/18
5 things we learned about Trump from his medical checkup

5 things we learned about Trump from his medical checkup

Five things we learned about President Donald Trump from Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the doctor who oversaw Trump’s first medical checkup in office. SLEEP Trump doesn’t get much shut-eye. Jackson guessed that Trump snoozes four to five hours a nig...
Published: 01/17/18
A century after the 1918 pandemic, science takes its best shot at flu

A century after the 1918 pandemic, science takes its best shot at flu

WASHINGTON — The descriptions are haunting. Some victims felt fine in the morning and were dead by night. Faces turned blue as patients coughed up blood. Stacked bodies outnumbered coffins. A century after one of history’s most catastrophic disease o...
Published: 01/17/18
A popular school fundraiser is just ‘junk-food marketing to kids,’ experts say

A popular school fundraiser is just ‘junk-food marketing to kids,’ experts say

For 43 years, schoolkids and their parents have clipped the labels from cookie bags and cracker boxes as part of a popular rewards program called Labels for Education.Through this and similar programs — think Tyson’s Project A+ or General Mills’ Box ...
Published: 01/17/18
Pinellas is at the center of a rise in Florida flu outbreaks

Pinellas is at the center of a rise in Florida flu outbreaks

Feeling a little sniffly or scratchy or stuffed up? It may be the flu, and you don’t want to wait around to see a doctor this year. This is not the time to write off flu-like symptoms, Tampa Bay area health officials and doctors warn. The influenza v...
Published: 01/16/18

CDC says ‘There’s lots of flu in lots of places.’ And it’s not going away anytime soon.

A nasty flu season is in full swing across the United States, with a sharp increase in the number of older people and young children being hospitalized, federal health officials said Friday.The latest weekly data from the Centers for Disease Control ...
Published: 01/12/18
Mease Countryside Hospital begins $156M expansion project

Mease Countryside Hospital begins $156M expansion project

SAFETY HARBOR — Mease Countryside Hospital is launching a $156 million expansion to build a four-story patient tower with all private rooms and a four-story parking garage.The tower will include 70 private patient rooms, a 30-bed observation unit, cr...
Published: 01/11/18
Flu shot? This is why you should still get one this year

Flu shot? This is why you should still get one this year

This year’s flu season is shaping up to be a bad one. Much of the country endured a bitterly cold stretch, causing more people to be crowded together inside. The strain that has been most pervasive, H3N2, is nastier than most. And, we’re being told, ...
Published: 01/11/18