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Family Stories

The Darling Story

FFF Advocate:
Self
Place of Residence:
Virginia Beach, VA
Survivor:
18-years-old, 2019
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Isabella Darling

Isabella was a healthy teenager whose flu illness damaged her lungs, leading to a double lung transplant.

 

Isabella Darling was a happy 17-year-old who was in her first year of college when she became sick with flu. On January 25, 2019, she woke up with what she thought was an eye infection, but then later that night she began feeling lethargic and throwing up. The next morning, she went to an urgent care and was diagnosed with flu. She assumed she would be better within a few days, but by the time she got home, she couldn’t keep any food down. By the next day, her body became so weak that she could not roll on her side or stand up. Her mother called 911 to take her to the hospital.

At the hospital, an x-ray of her chest showed that her flu illness had progressed into a serious case of pneumonia. Isabella was admitted to a children’s hospital where she was put on a special machine called a BiPap to help push air into her lungs. After over two weeks at the children’s hospital, she was transferred to an adult hospital where she was diagnosed with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and a collapsed lung. She was put on a ventilator and an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine to circulate blood and improve the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen so that her lungs could recover. Doctors also performed a tracheostomy, an incision through the neck to place a tube through the windpipe to allow for better airflow. This medical procedure left Isabella unable to speak.

After three weeks, she was transferred to Duke University to receive more specialized care. Eight weeks later, she was still not improving. Because her lungs never fully recovered from the original case of pneumonia, ARDS, and collapse, Isabella’s heart was working overtime and began to fail. As a result, she was placed on the lung transplant list. On May 12, 2019, they received the call that saved her life: Isabella would receive a pair of donor lungs that were a match for her blood type. She was immediately taken to surgery. Ten hours later, the transplant was complete and Isabella began the long process of recovery.

After four and a half months in multiple hospitals, Isabella finally left for pulmonary rehabilitation on June 12th. There, she spent months learning how to walk, talk, eat, and breathe independently. Almost nine months after her leaving home in an ambulance, she finally returned home on September 12th.

Isabella’s flu illness and its related complications have left her with lifelong medical complications. She takes multiple pills on a daily basis to keep her body from rejecting her transplanted lungs. These medications make her immunosuppressed, so she has to limit her activities to ensure that she does not expose herself to any illnesses. She also has to keep up with many medical appointments to ensure that she remains healthy.

Isabella and her family want people to know that flu can be deadly, even for healthy teenagers. Unfortunately, Isabella had not been vaccinated against influenza. After receiving her double lung transplant, she gets vaccinated and shares her story to show people how dangerous influenza can be and to demonstrate why it’s important to prevent flu through annual vaccination.

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