Laura Sidari is urging families to not delay in getting their flu shots. Despite she and her husband both being physicians, Sidari did not fully realize how risky the flu could be to healthy children until the tragic loss of her 4-year-old son, Leon.
"Last year, Leon was one of 180 children nationally who died from the flu. He was an 'old soul' with patience and gentleness beyond his 4 years of age. His smile was infectious, and his love for his brothers inspiring. Like roughly half of the children who die annually, he did not have a history of prior medical problems," the mom wrote on Facebook. "I had delayed his shot to align with a well-child visit later in the season, which he did not survive to attend."
On the morning of Christmas Eve, Leon was diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia and influenza A in the emergency room. Still, his parents believed he would pull through.
Sidari wrote on CafeMom that at that point, her son was only ill for one day in total. The day before, they had brought him to the hospital. He had signs of fever and general muscle aches, was sipping chicken noodle soup and watching cartoons on the living room couch.
But only two days after showing general flu symptoms, Leon's condition worsened rapidly. His lungs were bleeding, and he died on Christmas morning.
The devastating truth was that there was little time to medically intervene, even though she and her husband both recognized the early signs of the flu.
"I now intimately understand why the medical community overwhelmingly recommends the annual influenza vaccine for everyone over the age of 6 months," Sidari shared on Facebook. "It has been medically established that the flu shot reduces the risk of influenza-related mortality by 65 percent for healthy children. Of the children who die annually from flu-related complications, roughly 80 percent did not have their flu shot that season. It is the best option available to prevent child death due to the flu."
The percentage of young children in the U.S. who don't receive any vaccinations has quadrupled since 2001. In the 2016-17 season, only 59 percent of kids ages 6 months to 17 years old got the flu shot.
Sidari is sharing her painful experience in hopes of preventing other parents from losing a child to a preventative illness.
"Leon is my reason this season, and every season, for getting flu shots on time," she wrote. "This is the best time of the year to get the shot. Holiday planning and fall festivities can wait, but the flu shot cannot."