5-year-old dies of flu complications: 'Vaccines don't work all the time'

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A 5-year-old Eugene boy died from flu-related complications in late December after health officials say he caught the H1N1 virus.

Calandra Burgess said her son Ronan received the flu vaccine in November.

"All three of my children had the nasal spray. My other two kids didn't get sick at all," said Burgess.

Calandra said her 5-year-old Ronan came down with the flu Friday Dec. 20 while she and her husband were working through the flu. Calandra took Ronan to his pediatrician when he developed a barking cough often characterizing croup.

"She didn't think about doing an influenza test, because it had been past the 48-hour mark for the antivirals," said Calandra.

She started giving Ronan doses of steroidal medication Monday, prescribed by his pediatrician to combat the coughing, croup symptoms.

Ronan's symptoms didn't seem to be improving, so Calandra took her son to the emergency room early Christmas morning. Doctors took a soft-tissue x-ray of his upper respiratory system.

"They said it looked like it was collapsed a little, but it was nothing to be too concerned about," Burgess said.

After spending the day with their son, Calandra and her husband felt Ronan needed to go back to the hospital.

"I went to put (Ronan's) pants on, got one leg on him my son collapsed right in front of me and turned blue," Burgess said.

Paramedics secured an airway while rushing Ronan to Sacred Heart. Doctors there agreed that it was best to transfer the boy up to Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland.

"Once we got up there, it seemed like the worst was yet to come," Calandra said.

She said her son suffered severe brain damage due to a lack of oxygen from a collapsed airway. After numerous tests, treatments and hard decisions facing Burgess family, Ronan passed away on December 29.

"Through this process I thought about how beautiful my son was, and how he was able to bring a smile to everyone's face," said Burgess. "He was a happy, sweet-natured boy. Always wanting to help out and be there for us ... he was my pride and joy."

Burgess said she wanted to find some sort of light through Ronan's passing. Along with making Ronan an organ donor, Calandra hopes people will learn from his death.

"Vaccines don't work all the time. In this case it wasn't a 100 percent guarantee, and people need to remember that," said Burgess. "It saved two of my children from getting horribly sick, and I will always make sure my family continues to get them each year."

Dr. Patrick Luedtke of Lane Public Health said that occasionally the inoculations, be it a nasal spray or an injection, have the possibility of being ineffective.

"It's not perfect, but it is much better than not getting vaccinated," Dr. Luedtke. "Nowadays kids up to age 8 might need two doses."

Aside from getting the flu shot, Dr. Luedtke recommends people take preventative measures from spreading the virus. Covering a cough or sneeze, washing your hands thoroughly are two easy ways he says you can cut down on transmission.

"Flu season hasn't really peaked in our region yet. We are starting to see more active disease in the last four weeks or so," Luedtke said.

*The Centers For Disease Control found that antiviral medication for influenza work best "when treatment is administered early, especially within 48 hours of influenza illness onset."