My big sister Marcelina was like a mother to me. She was my biggest fan and supporter. The sky was the limit as far as Marcelina was concerned. As a single mom of a daughter and a special needs son, she was studying to be a lawyer and she encouraged me to continue my education and become a nurse. All of our plans fell apart in 2014.
When my family got together to celebrate Thanksgiving Marcelina just didn’t look right. She said she was fine, but I was worried enough to keep checking in with her over the coming days. She wasn’t feeling any better. She went to the doctor and she said they sent her home after giving her a flu shot.
What I didn’t know at the time was that Marcelina had leukemia. She didn’t want to tell anyone because she didn’t want us to worry.
I now know that it takes two weeks for a flu vaccine to become effective, and she may have already been infected by the time she got her vaccine. Also her immune response to the vaccine might have been less because of the cancer.
By Christmas, Marcelina was coughing and struggling to breathe. She promised me she would rest, but two weeks later she got even worse. My mother called an ambulance and Marcelina was rushed to the hospital. There, staff told my mother that Marcelina’s lungs were full of fluid. We learned she had gotten two separate strains of the flu and as a result, she got pneumonia, a complication due to flu.
Over the next few days in the hospital, her infections continued and her liver stopped functioning. The doctors put her on dialysis and, eventually, a medically-induced coma. It’s horrifying to see someone you love, completely helpless, lying in a hospital bed surrounded by a sea of wires and bags of fluids. She was also quarantined while in the hospital. My family and I had to wear hazmat suits just to visit her. We couldn’t simply hold her during a time when she needed us most.
When Marcelina was admitted to the hospital, I was planning my wedding and my birthday was two weeks away. All I did was pray for a birthday miracle – that my sister would wake up and everything would be okay again.
But nothing worked. After three weeks in the hospital, she had also lost lung and kidney function. The doctors told us that nothing else could be done, and that she was already gone. The next morning, the decision of whether to remove life support was taken out of our hands when Marcelina’s heart stopped.
I can’t describe what it’s like to tell two teenagers that their mother isn’t coming home. Or how it feels to get married without having your sister there as planned. So instead, I am going to make a simple plea – get your flu vaccine, every year. If not for yourself, then for those around you. You never know who you’re protecting by not getting the flu and passing it on to someone else. You might help protect someone at high risk for flu complications like Marcelina.
Marcelina had a lot of hopes and dreams for me. Her death threw me off my game for a while, but honoring her memory has given me new purpose. I am determined to share her story with as many people as possible to let them know the importance of vaccines. I never want anyone else to suffer what I have suffered.
BECOME A VACCINE ADVOCATE
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