Mission: To save lives and reduce hospitalizations by protecting children, families, and communities against influenza.
Family Stories

The Wehrkamp Family

FFF Advocate:
Angie Wehrkamp (mother)
Place of Residence:
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Date of Death:
January 10, 2015
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Gianna Wehrkamp

In less than two days, the flu took Gianna’s life while she was sleeping.

Gianna’s Flu Illness
In January 2015, Gianna Wehrkamp was a healthy, bright-eyed two-year-old. Gianna was a happy, active child with a larger-than-life, fearless personality. Her story started innocently enough. On Thursday, January 8th, Gianna’s mother, Angie, picked her up from daycare. Gianna felt a little warm so Angie gave her some Tylenol. The next morning Angie noticed that Gianna’s breathing didn’t sound right. Angie was concerned because the flu was circulating so she took Gianna to the pediatrician, where she was diagnosed with H3N2 flu (a strain of influenza A). The pediatrician prescribed antiviral medication for Gianna and Angie took her home to rest. Gianna rested throughout the day as she watched cartoons. She was not eating and drinking as usual.

Worsening Symptoms
Later that night, Gianna went to bed with her mother, Angie, around 8:30 pm. Gianna fell asleep pretty quickly but later woke around midnight coughing and moaning. Gianna’s fever had returned so her mother gave her some more Tylenol. To ease Gianna’s coughing, her mother patted her on the back in an effort to help break up the mucus that sounded like it was invading Gianna’s lungs. Gianna and her mother then went back to bed to cuddle. A little while later, Angie recalls hearing Gianna’s voice calling her. Angie assured Gianna that everything was going to be okay as soon as the medicine had time to take effect. When Gianna quieted down, Angie thought the medicine was working and Gianna was breathing with less difficulty. That was the last time Angie heard her daughter’s voice.

Gianna’s Death
At 3:00 am that same night, Angie woke to a parent’s worst nightmare. Gianna had been sleeping in the bed next to her, but Angie quickly realized that Gianna was not breathing. The paramedics were called and Angie performed CPR on Gianna while she waited for the emergency crews to arrive.

Approximately 10 to 20 emergency responders entered the family home and attempted to revive Gianna. Gianna’s parents and brother waited anxiously nearby in another room of the house. After close to 30 minutes, the paramedics were able to get Gianna’s heart started again with the use of a defibrillator, and they were giving her artificial respiration. As the emergency team prepared for transport to the hospital, there was an ominous, somber feeling in the air. Angie’s family was in shock and her son, Gianna’s 12-year-old brother, was screaming and sobbing. A police car took them to the hospital. Angie does not remember hearing a siren as the ambulance left.

At the hospital, tests showed that although Gianna’s heart was beating, she had suffered irreversible brain damage. Gianna was on life support and the doctors said that Gianna would not recover. The family made the decision to keep Gianna on life support long enough for several other family members to come and say their last goodbyes.

Why Children Need Annual Flu Vaccines
Gianna’s mother, father, and brother had all been vaccinated for the flu in 2015, but little Gianna had yet to be vaccinated. In less than two days, and with little warning, the flu took the life of healthy, beautiful Gianna Appaline Wehrkamp. Her family wants everyone to know how serious the flu can be, even for healthy children like Gianna, and that annual flu vaccination for the entire family is critically important. Angie advises other parents to get their family vaccinated as soon as possible every fall.

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