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Family Stories

The Katz-Weiner Family

FFF Advocate:
Daniel Weiner, MD
Place of Residence:
Pittsburgh, PA
Date of Death:
January 17, 2018
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Aviva Katz, MD

Aviva Katz was a pediatric surgeon recovering from leukemia who died from the flu.


Aviva Katz’s Life
Aviva Katz was a pediatric surgeon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She was the mother of four children and wife to a pediatric pulmonologist. She was devoted to her patients and interested in bioethics. In her last years of life, she took up figure skating as a way to spend time with her youngest, twin daughters.  

Cancer Treatment
In December 2016, Aviva was diagnosed with leukemia. She had several hospital stays for chemotherapy. She was resilient and continued to figure skate between hospitalizations. 

In March 2017, Aviva received a stem cell transplant to treat her cancer. She recovered well from the procedure and her cancer seemed to be under control. She went back to work and was feeling well. 

Flu Illness
By December 2017, Aviva had completed her cancer treatment. She and her family went to Chicago to see Broadway shows and celebrate the winter holidays. 

When Aviva came home, she had a fever. In cancer patients, fevers need to be evaluated quickly as they can indicate an acute issue. She went to the transplant clinic and was admitted to stay in the hospital overnight. She tested positive for influenza. 

Flu Hospitalization
After one day in the hospital, Aviva needed extra oxygen. That night, when she continued to need medical interventions, she was moved to the intensive care unit (ICU). 

In the ICU, the medical team first put her on a BiPAP machine to help push air into her lungs. When that was not effective enough, she was put on a ventilator to give her heart and lungs a chance to recover and do the work of breathing for her. They hoped this was a temporary problem that the ventilator could improve. 

They found that she had a collapsed lung and developed a bacterial infection in her lungs and blood. 

After a week in the hospital with no improvement, doctors tried paralyzing her body and putting her in the prone position. They found that when they suctioned her, she was not showing any signs of discomfort or pain like she normally would. 

Flu Death
Imaging confirmed that Aviva had suffered a stroke and was no longer neurologically intact. Her family knew that she did not want to have life-saving interventions if there was irreparable damage to her brain. 

Her husband called her children to be at their mom’s side when the medical team removed her breathing tube. However, their oldest son was studying in Israel at the time. Sadly, while he was on the plane to fly home, Aviva’s heart had an arrhythmia. Aviva died on January 17, 2018, before he could make it to his mom’s bedside to say goodbye. 

Cancer & Flu Complications
Aviva was more prone to contracting flu and other infections because she was taking immunosuppressant drugs. These medications reduce the strength of the body’s immune system so that the body doesn’t see the stem cell transplant as a foreign invader. 

While some may assume that Aviva died from leukemia, her cancer had been treated by a stem cell transplant. Rather, the flu is what caused the complications that lead to her death. 

Why Everyone Needs A Flu Vaccine Every Year
Although Aviva and her entire family had been vaccinated against the flu, she was less protected from the flu and had a weaker immune response to the vaccine because of her immunosuppressant medications. When everyone gets vaccinated, including healthy people who may not be at high risk for flu hospitalization and death, people like Aviva can be protected from serious flu complications. 

Aviva’s husband, Daniel, is a pediatric pulmonologist who provides care to children who have serious lung diseases. He says that getting a flu vaccine is like wearing a seatbelt – even if you have never had a serious case of the flu, you should still get the shot, just as even if you’ve never been in a car accident, you should still wear a seatbelt. 

Honoring Aviva
In Aviva’s memory, her family has established the Aviva Katz Memorial Fund for Ethics at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. By marrying her two passions of pediatric surgery and ethics, they hope to create a legacy where others can continue to learn and make strides in the field of pediatric ethics.

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