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

The Swenson Family

FFF Advocate:
Charity Freeman (mother)
Place of Residence:
Miami, Oklahoma
18-years-old, 2021
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Josiah Swenson

Josiah was hospitalized with flu during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Josiah’s Flu Illness
Josiah Swenson was an 18-year-old in his senior year of high school.  He lived in Miami, Oklahoma with his mother, stepfather, sister, and brother-in-law. On February 10, 2020, one day after his sister died from influenza B, Josiah began experiencing chest pain. He had been coughing frequently and not feeling well for several days. 

Josiah went to his local urgent care. The doctor on duty immediately sent him to the hospital to rule out sepsis and to receive a chest x-ray to check for pneumonia. They sent him home with Tamiflu and cough medicine. Upon taking the Tamiflu, he began vomiting in the car, while he and his mom, Charity, were still in the parking lot.

Josiah’s nausea and vomiting continued well into the next day.  His father came to the house to check on him while his family went to Kayauna’s burial.

Josiah’s Flu Hospitalization
Josiah’s father took him back to the hospital where he was diagnosed with double pneumonia and sepsis. They intubated him and transported him by life flight to The University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kansas. When he arrived, they placed him on an ECMO machine which pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest.

Josiah developed a blood clot in his neck and the ECMO had to be moved from his neck to his groin. Josiah was also placed on dialysis. He was in stable but critical condition for several weeks. The team of physicians considered doing a lung transplant or removing the lower left lobe of his lung, but they felt he was not stable enough to survive the lobectomy surgery.

During the 3 weeks when he was on ECMO, Josiah had a tracheostomy and feeding tube placed. The team of surgeons removed two of his ribs to put a Clagett window in his chest to allow fluid to drain from his lungs and to prevent and treat the bacterial infection. 

Flu During the Start of the COVID-19 Pandemic
His mother, Charity, spent over a month at the hospital with him. However, because Josiah’s illness took place during the time in which the country went into mandatory lockdown, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his mother was forced to leave him alone in the hospital in March of 2020. After she left, the cardiothoracic surgeon re-inserted the Clagett window to remove dead tissue. The surgeon told Charity over the phone that he did not believe that Josiah would live for more than a few months. The surgeon transitioned Josiah’s medical care over to the hospital’s palliative care team.  

Josiah’s Recovery
Josiah was finally released from the hospital on April 8, 2020. He has been receiving hospice services since he was discharged from the hospital. When he was first released from the hospital, he required full-time in-home care,  24-hours per day.  He routinely participated in physical therapy and can now miraculously walk without the use of a wheelchair or walker.  

Surgery in September 2021
After almost 18 months of recovery, Josiah gained enough weight and was well enough to return to the hospital to close the Clagett window. Through multiple surgeries, the hole in his chest was closed, which was the final milestone to reach in regaining his independence after his initial flu hospitalization. 

Get Vaccinated In Memory of Josiah’s Sister
Josiah and Charity share this story in honor of Kayauna, his sister, who died from complications of influenza in February 2020. They want everyone to know that flu can be serious – even deadly – and ultimately, change a family’s life forever.


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