JJ
A Flu Story

Place of Residence: Iowa City, Iowa

At two-years-old, JJ was a happy, funny, and energetic child who loved animals, gymnastics, books, and spending time with family and friends. He and his parents traveled often. Sadly, although he was a healthy child, JJ lost his life to flu in February 2020 just 10 hours after first showing symptoms. Some of his mother’s favorite memories of JJ are reading books together at bedtime and holding hands while he was falling asleep.

JJ’s mother, Maurine, shares the story of how she lost her two-year-old son to flu.

What were some of JJ’s personality traits?

He was loving, curious, energetic, funny, and kind. He loved animals, gymnastics, books, travel, and just being with family and friends.

What were some of your favorite things to do together?

We would cook together, do science experiments, and read many, many books. And he loved to try to negotiate his bedtime! While I miss everything about JJ, I especially long for our special time reading books together at bedtime and holding hands through the crib slats while he was falling asleep.

Did JJ have any medical conditions that made him susceptible to flu and its potential complications?

He didn’t have any diagnosed medical conditions while he was alive, but following his death he was diagnosed with asymptomatic asthma and a rare lung abnormality called follicular bronchiolitis that can be associated with immune dysfunction. While JJ never showed any symptoms of either condition, it is possible that they contributed to his severe reaction to the flu.

How did JJ become sick? How did his illness progress?

JJ became sick quite suddenly with a sore throat, fever, and he was acting tired – nothing out of the ordinary for a little kid coming down with something. Because JJ’s symptoms were relatively mild, I didn’t think it was anything serious. By evening time that same day, JJ’s fever normalized with over-the-counter medication. He ate a big dinner and went to sleep early. He wasn’t showing any respiratory symptoms before bedtime (e.g., difficulty breathing). I heard and saw nothing unusual over the video and audio monitor in his bedroom. Later that night, I found him lifeless in his bed.

Was JJ vaccinated?

Yes, JJ received a flu vaccine, but presumably he was exposed to an unvaccinated person in our community that was sick with flu. Because no vaccine is 100% effective, it’s important to remember that getting a flu vaccine also helps to reduce the spread of flu in your community and helps protect vulnerable individuals like young children, pregnant women, older adults and others who may not be able to be vaccinated (e.g., some cancer patients).

What do you want others to know about flu? What advice would you give them if they don’t think vaccines are important?

I would tell them that vaccines are the only and best way to prevent more influenza deaths like JJ’s. By vaccinating yourself, you are also protecting the vulnerable people around you and others in your community.  JJ was an apparently healthy child with all vaccinations and regular well-child pediatrician visits. His sudden death so soon after onset of mild influenza symptoms highlights the importance of vaccination to help keep your community safe.

Maurine is now a strong vaccine advocate and shares JJ’s story to remind others about the importance of annual flu vaccination for everyone six months and older, consistent with the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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