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Family Stories

The Zabel Story

FFF Advocate:
Charity Freeman (mother)
Place of Residence:
Miami, Oklahoma
Date of Death:
February 9, 2020
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Kayauna Zabel

Kayauna was a healthy 20-year-old who died from a flu infection that caused multisystem organ failure. 

Kayauna was a 20-year-old paraprofessional who was working at an elementary school in Columbus, Kansas. She had recently been married and lived with her husband, brother, mother, and stepfather in Miami, Oklahoma.

On Sunday, February 2, Kayauna began not feeling well. She called in sick to work and recovered over four days. However, when she went back to work on February 6, she began feeling worse. The next evening, her husband, Preston, took her to the emergency room. 

The staff at the emergency room did not seem concerned, and they sent her home with cough medicine. However, the next morning, she started coughing up blood. Preston brought her to a different emergency room where her mom worked. It was there that Kayauna was diagnosed with influenza B, pneumonia, and sepsis. Kayauna was immediately moved to the intensive care unit (ICU) to be intubated and put on a ventilator to allow her lungs to recover.   

After one night in the ICU, Kayauna’s family was told she was experiencing organ failure. It was clear that she was not getting better because her skin was purple. Flu attacked her entire body, and Kayauna’s heart stopped three times. They attempted to place her on a bypass machine to oxygenate her blood outside of the heart to help the heart regain strength. She was also placed on dialysis to filter out toxins in her body that her kidneys were too weak to do on their own. 

They were unable to utilize air transport for Kayauna to be taken to another hospital due to inclement weather conditions.  An ambulance was sent from Tulsa, but tragically it did not arrive in time to save her life. Kayauna died from influenza on February 9, 2020.

During the same flu season, both Kayauna’s husband, Preston, and her brother, Josiah, were also hospitalized with flu. Preston was hospitalized for 6 days and has permanent lung damage from his flu infection. Josiah was on life support for over three weeks and spent almost two months in the hospital. Josiah is currently recovering from lung damage caused by the flu. Read Josiah’s story here.

Kayauna’s mother, Charity, shares her daughter’s story to remind people that getting an annual flu vaccine is the best defense against influenza. Of the five people who lived together, Kayauna, Preston, and Josiah suffered the most severe consequences of the flu. The three of them had not been vaccinated. However, Charity and her husband were vaccinated, and as a result were protected against infection from the flu. Charity urges everyone to take the necessary steps to protect themselves and those around them, by receiving a flu vaccine early in the season, every single year.

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