Influenza Ends Martin McGowan’s Life

By Diane McGowan, Martin’s mother

On February 27, 2008, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to expand the influenza vaccination recommendations to include all children ages 6 months through 18 years. We at Families Fighting Flu were overjoyed. We had worked tirelessly to make certain that the members of the advisory committee had heard our message that the previous influenza recommendation, which had been to vaccinate children ages 6 months to 5 years, meant that healthy school-age children were dying from this vaccine-preventable disease. We could now be assured that doctors would begin to vaccinate more children older than age 5, and as a result, more people would be protected.

When we arrived at the hospital, they started Martin on an IV for dehydration and took a swab from his throat. The doctor said that Martin tested positive for influenza A, so they were going to keep him hydrated and monitor him. They also gave him mild medication for leg pain. But as the day progressed, Martin became more agitated because the pain in his legs was unbearable.

Finally, a new set of doctors examined him and determined that they needed to do further testing to figure out what was wrong with his legs. This involved injecting long needles into his legs to test the pressure of his muscles. If the pressure were too great, they would have to perform surgery to cut open his legs and expose the muscles until the swelling went down, or they might have to amputate. They eventually took Martin in for emergency surgery because he was diagnosed with compartment syndrome, a disease that attacks the muscles, limiting blood circulation and causing severe pain.

The intense running that Martin did the night before escalated his condition from muscle aches to compartment syndrome. But shortly after surgery began, the doctor came out and told me that his heart had stopped and they could not revive him. An autopsy was performed, and the cause of death was noted as “complications from influenza.”

This is where my memories of Martin end and my journey begins—my journey to prevent another family from experiencing the tragedy of losing a child to this vaccine-preventable illness.

After Martin’s death, I quickly learned that influenza is a serious disease. In fact, on average, nearly 100 children younger than age 5 die in the U.S. from influenza and its complications every year. Additionally, more than 20,000 children younger than age 5 are hospitalized annually because of influenza. And if you consider the entire U.S. population, complications from influenza cause 36,000 deaths and more than 200,000 hospitalizations on average each year. What compounds this tragedy is that many of the serious illnesses and deaths caused by influenza is preventable.

The reality is that what happened to Martin can happen to any child. As parents, we do not know how our child’s immune system will react the first time they contract influenza, so why take a chance with their health or their lives? It’s our responsibility as parents to protect our children. Don’t even think twice—get your kids vaccinated against influenza every year.

Disclaimer: and publish personal testimonies to make them available for our readers’ review. Please note that information in the testimonies may be outdated and may not reflect the current immunization schedule or recommendations. (Published: 9/2009)

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