Protecting children, families, and communities against influenza.
Family Stories

The Smith Family

FFF Advocate:
Jessica Richman (mother)
Place of Residence:
Newport News, VA
Date of Child’s Death:
December 5, 2014
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Cayden Gracie Smith 

Cayden was a healthy, bubbly, talkative, and independent 3 ½ year old in December 2014. Cayden loved the color pink and her mother, Jessica, affectionately called her “CadyBug”. Cayden first became ill on Thursday, December 4th. Jessica had been sick the week before with tonsillitis and thought perhaps she had passed something on to Cayden. Cayden’s symptoms included coughing and lethargy. Her parents could tell that something was wrong because Cayden wasn’t her usual bubbly self. They kept her home from daycare that day so that her father could monitor her condition.

Later that day, Cayden developed a fever. Her father tried to give her some Tylenol, but Cayden refused to take it. That afternoon he took Cayden to the pediatrician, who indicated her symptoms were likely just caused by a virus. However, to be safe, Cayden was prescribed an antibiotic. Both of Cayden’s parents had their flu vaccine that year, but Cayden had not received hers yet because she was ill at the time of her scheduled appointment. Although Cayden’s father alerted the doctor that Cayden had not yet had her flu vaccine, they did not think a flu test was warranted.

Jessica stayed up all night on Thursday with Cayden, whose condition was deteriorating rapidly. Cayden did not want to take the antibiotic and kept complaining that she had to throw up. She was very uncomfortable and spitting up a lot of mucus. Cayden’s fever continued and Jessica tried to make her comfortable.

The next morning, Cayden’s parents decided she needed to go back to the pediatrician because her condition had worsened. At that point, Cayden could not stand up and wanted her father to carry her everywhere, which was unusual because she was usually so independent. Cayden was also very thirsty and kept asking for drinks of water. Cayden’s father took her back to the doctor’s office where she was drinking water so fast it actually made her vomit. Because Cayden had refused to take the oral antibiotic, the doctor recommended that she be given the antibiotic in shot form, for which they had to travel to a second doctor’s office.

The second doctor thought Cayden had bronchitis and did not think she needed the antibiotic shot. Cayden’s father again indicated that she had not yet been vaccinated for the flu, but similar to the first doctor, the second doctor did not think a flu test was necessary. Cayden and her father were sent home with some medicine to treat Cayden’s symptoms. Later that Friday afternoon, Cayden’s condition continued to worsen.

Friday evening, Cayden was napping on the couch when her father noticed that her breathing was very shallow. Her father called 9-1-1 and immediately after, Cayden stopped breathing and her lips turned purple. Her father started CPR as he waited for the ambulance to arrive. At 5:30 on Friday evening, Jessica was on her way home from work when she received a call from Cayden’s father that Cayden had stopped breathing and he had called 9-1-1. Jessica rushed home to find that her entire road was blocked with emergency vehicles. The paramedics were actively working on Cayden while her parents waited anxiously nearby. Cayden was transported via ambulance to a nearby hospital where an emergency doctor came out to tell Jessica that they were unable to revive Cayden and that she had not taken another breath since the paramedics had arrived at their home.

Cayden’s autopsy revealed that she had H1N1 flu (a strain of influenza A) and that the flu had caused her lungs to fill with mucus, eventually making it so she could not breathe. Cayden’s medical records were reviewed by several pediatric specialists who concluded that there was nothing that could have been done to save Cayden’s life once the flu took hold of her little body.

In less than 48 hours, flu took the life of bubbly, joyous, 3-year-old Cayden Gracie Smith. Her mother frequently shares Cayden’s story in an effort to educate others about the seriousness of the flu and the critical importance of annual flu vaccination for everyone six months and older. Jessica wants everyone to realize how devastating the flu can be, even for healthy individuals, and how quickly it can take the life of a loved one.

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