She was the first child out of 147 who would die from flu in the 2014-2015 season. She passed away on December 19, 2014, in Tacoma, WA, just 48 hours after the onset of symptoms and within 4 hours of when she arrived at the hospital.
It all happened so quickly that I still struggle with the reality of it all. One day she was sent home from school with a fever, the next day she was pronounced dead before we even knew the cause. It wasn’t until I received a call from the medical examiner a week and a half later that I would come to learn that my daughter had died from influenza (H3N2).
I was on Facebook back in October when I saw this chilling post on Every Child By Two‘s Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page. “Last week marked the official end of the 2014-2015 flu season. Sadly, the season was marked by 147 pediatric deaths. Of those 147 children, we know the vaccination status of 123 of them – 14 were ineligible for vaccination due to age, 15 were vaccinated, and 94 were unvaccinated. As we begin the 2015-2016 season, we urge every one to get a flu vaccine. No matter what your age, the flu can be dangerous and even deadly. A flu vaccine is your best defense.”
To be completely honest, prior to Scarlet’s death I was not aware of the dangers of the flu, the symptoms of the flu, or the fact that influenza could be deadly to an otherwise healthy child. I thought the flu shot was a way for pharmaceutical companies to make money. I thought the vaccine was more likely to give you the flu than prevent it. I thought the vaccine wasn’t necessary because everyone who got the flu got over it. I thought it was no big deal.
To say I was mistaken is an understatement.
In the months since Scarlet’s death I can’t help but wish I had known more. If only I had identified her symptoms as influenza sooner. If only I had known how dangerous the flu could be. If only I had gotten my family vaccinated. Is it possible that I could have done something that may have saved her life?
As I approach the anniversary of Scarlet’s death, I think of the sweet, beautiful and vibrant child that once graced this earth. Only a parent understands the absolute love you have for your child and the monumental desire that roars like an open fire inside you to protect them at all costs.
I still feel her presence everywhere, but mourn the fact that I can no longer see her. Touch her. Or protect her.
Whatever you imagine it might be like to have your child die, multiply that a zillion times, and you’re still not even close. The medical examiner should have written a death certificate for me as well, because when Scarlet died, a part of me died too.
I almost feel like less of a mom now. Or just not entirely whole anymore. Incomplete.
The shape of my family has changed. It’s been almost a year since Scarlet left us and yet I still find myself questioning how I’m supposed to respond when people ask me how many children I have. I have 3 kids now. But I had four.
Just a few weeks ago, we went to a restaurant and I ordered four kid’s meals. Then it suddenly occurred to me…
Scarlet is gone. How could I forget that? Everyday my heart is heavy with grief and pain. How could I forget she’s gone?
On another occasion some friends stopped by. The kids were playing and the adults were chatting, and I found myself looking for Scarlet. She wasn’t in the living room with us so I started looking around, assuming she was getting into something she shouldn’t. Then I caught myself.
She was such a presence in our home, it is quite obvious she isn’t here. So, how is it that I keep forgetting?
Every day since her passing I try to accept the fact that my beautiful Scarlet is gone. My mind is consumed with her memory, and yet I so often forget that she’s no longer here with us. My focus shifts back and forth between the grief I have, and the gift I had.
I am overwhelmed by sorrow, loss and a sense of what might have been, while at the same time I’m struck by the joy and richness my princess brought into the world. I feel the deepest, most aching pain. Yet I long to celebrate Scarlet’s brief, brilliant time on this planet.
The moment to moment tension…the never ending whiplash to and fro between these emotions…the grief and the gift. It drives me absolutely mad!
But in the months following her death, I’ve started to see the path that is laid out before me.
Following a local media interview on KOMO 4 News in Seattle, people who had heard Scarlet’s story began sending me heart-felt messages. They explained how her story touched them and led them to seek the care they needed for their loved ones. Some talked about getting diagnosed for flu, others talked about getting vaccinated. All the messages touched me deeply and soon became a life boat to keep me from drowning in grief.
One reader claimed:
“It was because of your bravery sharing the story of Scarlet. She is the reason I took my daughter to the hospital that night of January 12th just shortly after I saw you on the news. You saved my daughter’s life. She had H3N2 also. She was hospitalized and stayed for almost a week. I wasn’t going to take my daughter, I thought she just had a cold.”
Stephanie L. wrote:
“Because of your story my entire family got flu shots – 28 of us in total ranging in ages from 67 to unborn (I was pregnant).”
A nurse from Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, where Scarlet was treated, wrote to say,
“Scarlet’s story changed this city. She touched everyone who heard the story. Tacoma will never forget who Scarlet is.”
It saddens me to know that there were 146 other children who died of flu last season, and 146 other families who are grieving just like me.
My first response when I noted the number of childhood deaths last season was shock and disbelief.
Is that all? My Scarlet was one of just 147? How unlucky!
And then it occurred to me that numbers like these may be why people don’t think it can happen to them. Like me, they don’t take precautions because the threat doesn’t seem real. But I’m here to tell you if it could happen to me, it could happen to you. And if I had the chance, I would do anything and everything I could to prevent what happened to Scarlet from happening again.
Today, I’m sharing Scarlet’s story in hopes of reducing the number of childhood deaths from flu, but also in hopes of reducing the hundreds of thousands of people of all ages who suffer, are hospitalized and die as a result of influenza each year.
Scarlet will always be one of the many faces of the flu. But my goal is prevent others from being the new faces of flu. I want people to realize that the flu is dangerous for people of all ages; even those who are otherwise healthy. I want people to recognize the symptoms of the flu, so that they can be sure to seek proper medical attention if their loved one needs it. I also want people to do their best to protect themselves and others from flu by staying home when they are sick, and getting their annual flu vaccination each season.
I want to make sure that Scarlet’s life – and death – made an impression on this world. It may not be an easy task. And it won’t happen overnight. It’s already been life-changing for me, but now I’m asking for your help in making sure it’s life-saving for others. Please do everything possible to protect yourself and the ones you love from being another face of the flu.
Please share Scarlet’s story.
Please get yourself and your family vaccinated.
Learn about the CDC’s recommendation for seasonal flu vaccine for everyone over the age of 6 months including pregnant women.
Sincerely, Rebecca Hendricks