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Family Stories

The Swenson Story

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

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

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 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. 

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 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.  He has gained enough weight and is now well enough to begin preparing for a return to the hospital to close the Clagett window.  He and his family are hopeful that he will be able to be discharged from hospice care after the Clagett procedure is completed. Once he reaches that milestone, it is expected that Josiah will be able to partially resume his normal activities.                      

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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