David Haley, police chief in Carlinville, Ill., says a cough was the first sign that he wasn’t his usual healthy self. Next came fever, which spiked to 105 degrees. Sick enough to seek care at a Springfield, Ill., hospital, where he was admitted, Haley found himself engaged in a fight not covered in standard police training. And he says he very nearly lost.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2012-2013 flu season resulted in 79,000 hospitalizations in the United States. In January, with the season still active, Barnes-Jewish Hospital reported 320 diagnosed cases, including 35 with severe symptoms being treated in intensive care units and nine deaths in patients ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-60s.
Influenza, or flu, is an infection of the respiratory system caused by virus. And it’s highly contagious; airborne droplets from the sneeze or cough of an infected person can reach someone standing as far as six feet away. The CDC reports the H1N1 influenza strain that dominated the 2013-2014 flu season can cause, among other symptoms, fever, cough, sore throat, body aches and chills. Even in healthy people, the flu can cause serious complications or even death.
Haley was transferred to Barnes-Jewish Hospital but doesn’t remember much about his stay. His wife, Missy, however, remembers clearly the efforts made to keep her husband alive. Because Haley’s lungs were damaged by influenza, and he wasn’t responding to other interventions, his team of health care professionals chose to use ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, a procedure that can benefit patients with severe cases of flu or other illness affecting the lungs. Essentially, ECMO replaces the lungs’ function: a patient’s blood runs through the ECMO machine, which removes carbon dioxide and adds oxygen, then returns the blood to the heart. With their workload temporarily halted, the lungs can rest and heal.
When Haley recovered and was able to leave the hospital, he had lost 42 pounds, and he needed dialysis three times a week as a result of kidney damage. He and his family honored Christmas a few weeks late, happy to have another good reason to celebrate.
Haley says he didn’t take time out of his busy schedule to get a flu vaccination last fall, and he wants to make sure others don’t make the same mistake.
The CDC estimates that in the 2012-2013 season, the flu vaccine helped 3.2 million people avoid influenza.
Read more articles from Innovate Fall 2014.