- FFF Advocate:
- Laura Sidari (mother)
- Place of Residence:
- Dayton, OH
- Date of Child's Death:
- December 25, 2017
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Four-year-old Leon was known as an “old soul” with patience and gentleness beyond his age. His smile was infectious and his love for his brothers inspiring. Like roughly half of the children who die annually from flu, Leon did not have a history of prior medical problems. Yet, he died rapidly, only two days after showing general flu symptoms when his lungs were destroyed by bacterial pneumonia secondary to flu. It was Christmas morning.
Leon was officially diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia and influenza A in the emergency room on Christmas Eve. It never occurred to his family that he would not be coming home.
His illness began with signs of fever and general muscle aches. He spent the day sipping chicken noodle soup and watching cartoons on the living room couch.
The next morning Leon’s parents, both physicians themselves, had quickly recognized when he began having difficulty breathing and they promptly brought him in for treatment. Even as they prepared to leave for the hospital, Leon wasn’t acting particularly ill. He had eaten breakfast, dressed himself in his “big boy” jeans and had put on his black Velcro sneakers.
Once Leon arrived at the hospital he was rapidly admitted to a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. His parents felt confident in his treatment plan at that point, but they still didn’t fully understand how dangerous flu can be, even for a healthy child.
Unfortunately, Leon failed to respond to escalating medical care and he passed away early Christmas morning after developing pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding in his lungs) from his condition.
Leon’s mother, Laura, had planned to get her son his annual flu shot during a well-child visit later in the season, but he did not survive the flu season long enough to attend. She now understands why the medical community overwhelmingly recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older by the end of October.
In the aftermath of losing her son, Laura discovered that Leon’s story was similar to many other pediatric flu-related deaths. She learned that roughly half of children who die annually from flu complications do not have a history of prior medical problems. Like Leon, many die rapidly within a few days of showing initial symptoms. And the literature shows that children without pre-existing health conditions are more likely to die rapidly from flu-related complications compared to other pediatric populations.
She also read studies that showed that flu vaccination reduces the risk of death in healthy children by as much as 65 percent. And roughly 80 percent of children who die from flu have not received their annual flu vaccine.
Since Leon passed, Laura has discovered that there are many parents, and even other physicians, who have not always prioritized flu vaccines for their families. The fall and winter months can be challenging, with multiple demands on our time and energy, particularly as the holidays approach. However, Laura shares Leon’s story because this experience has brought upon indescribable pain that she hopes to help others avoid.
She explains that there are no words to describe the agony of having to open Christmas presents for a child who will never be coming home. Like many other parents who have lost children, Laura feels as if her “old life” ended when Leon died and a different life began. Every day, Leon is not far from her mind. He is her reason for getting her other two sons their flu vaccines on time, this and every flu season.
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