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Family Stories

The Miller Family

FFF Advocate:
Allison Miller (self)
Place of Residence:
Washington, D.C.
33 years old, 2014
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Allison Miller

Allison was an active 33-year-old professional and world traveler who developed secondary complications from flu, which resulted in the amputation of her left leg above the knee.

At 33 years old, Allison was the picture of health. She was an active professional with a passion for international travel. In 2013, Allison had traveled to Europe, South Africa, Brazil, Australia, and the South Pacific. Just one year later, Allison’s life was drastically changed by influenza.

On March 7th, 2014, Allison left work early because she felt like she was coming down with a bad cold. Initially, her symptoms consisted of a headache and a sore throat. The next day, she was feeling much worse and went to a local urgent care where she was given a breathing (nebulizer) treatment for her chest congestion, an inhaler, steroids, and a prescription cough medicine to treat her symptoms. After a chest x-ray, Allison was sent home to rest and told to come back if her symptoms worsened.

That evening, her symptoms continued to worsen and she began to experience excruciating pain in her back. The pain was so great at times that Allison actually blacked out a few times. The next morning, Allison managed to call a friend to take her to the hospital. Upon arrival, her friend took one look at Allison and called 9-1-1. Allison was rushed to the hospital and recalls the first 30 minutes in the emergency room, following which there were numerous complications. She was eventually diagnosed with bilateral bacterial pneumonia caused by influenza. In less than 24 hours, the pneumonia had caused her to go into septic shock. All of Allison’s organs were shutting down and she was placed on a heart-lung bypass machine (i.e., extracorporeal membrane oxygenation [ECMO]) as a last resort.

Allison remained on ECMO for five days; however, during that time there was not enough blood flow to her left leg. As a result, the doctors had to conduct an emergency amputation of her leg leg above the knee. Allison’s health condition was so tenuous that the surgeon was at first asked to perform the amputation bedside in the intensive care unit, but could not do so. It was unclear if Allison would even survive the elevator ride to the operating room.

Allison was placed in a medically induced coma for three weeks and her condition eventually improved. However, it would take several more weeks before she would be lucid enough to understand what had happened and it would take her several years to even process her life-changing illness. Allison spent a total of three months in the hospital – one month in the ICU, one month in intermediate care, and the final month in inpatient rehabilitation rebuilding her strength and learning how to live as an amputee. For two of these months, she was on a ventilator because she could not even breathe on her own.

Allison had not been vaccinated against the flu in 2014. She thought the flu vaccine was only for hospital workers, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. She did not think she was at risk for flu because she was young, strong, and otherwise healthy. Now, in addition to being an amputee, Allison has permanent lung damage (bronchiectasis) and below average heart function as a result of her influenza illness.

Now, Allison is a strong advocate for annual flu vaccination and makes sure she gets a flu vaccine each and every year. She wants others to realize that the flu is serious and can result in life-altering complications and even death. Allison especially wants young adults to realize that they’re not invincible. As a world traveler, she had received multiple vaccinations for exotic diseases and had to be careful during her travels about exposures to exotic foods and water. However, it was flu that nearly killed her. She wants others to understand that flu is a health hazard to everyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, or health status.

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