The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that every year strikes people of all ages, leading to hospitalizations and even death for some. Older folks, babies and children, and those with a weakened immune system are at a higher risk of developing complications when they contract the flu.
One virtually unheard of complication has stricken a four-year-old little girl from Iowa and her parents are speaking out about the horror that’s happened to their darling daughter.
Jade DeLucia didn’t get her flu shot this season and now, she’s blind.
The little girl contracted the flu a few days before Christmas and ended up in the intensive care unit for two weeks at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Dr. Theresa Czech, one of her treating physicians, said: “she is lucky to be alive.”
“She’s a little fighter. And I think she’s super lucky.”
Amanda Phillips, Jade’s mom, said it’s been “terrible” to see Jade fighting for her life. Jade had gotten the flu shot earlier in the year 2019, but it was too soon and didn’t cover her for the 2019-2020 flu season.
“Jade did get the flu shot. It was earlier in the year so it technically was not the most updated one that she should have gotten in August. I didn’t know there was a specific time to get it.”
It all started when Jade began showing symptoms of a cold coming on. She wasn’t her usual peppy self and only wanted to cuddle with her mom.
A low-grade fever haunted her for a few days, but it was kept at bay with fever-reduction medication.
“She was running around, having fun, eating normally, asking for snacks. It was just — it’s a little bug, she’ll get over it.”
For four days, her body exhibited no symptoms of the flu, just that pesky low-grade fever and the desire to lay low.
“There wasn’t any sign that would’ve told me that something was seriously wrong with her.”
But while Amanda was at work and Jade was at home with her dad sound asleep, Jade took a turn for the worse. The family had no idea how dire her situation was until they woke her up the next morning to celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve with her family.
Jade hadn’t risen yet and when Stephen checked on her, she was lying there in her bed unresponsive. Her body was on fire.
“I yelled at him — I was like, ‘We have to go. We have to go to the emergency room. This isn’t right. Something’s not right with her.”
Amanda and Stephen whisked their lifeless little girl off to Covenant Medical Center where she began having febrile seizures. Her eyes rolled toward the back of her head.
Physicians rushed into Jade’s room and quickly determined she had to be rushed to the University of Iowa in Iowa City, approximately 80 miles away. There wasn’t enough time to wait for an ambulance.
Jade had to be flown by air ambulance.
“I didn’t think I was going to see her again at that point. I really didn’t. Just from looking at her, I really honestly didn’t think I was going to see her.”
On Christmas Day, the family was informed that Jade had the flu and it had affected her brain. She had encephalopathy, a known complication of the flu.
“They said she had significant brain damage. They said our child might not ever wake up, and if she did, she might not ever be the same.”
For several days, Jade was completely unresponsive. Her parents had no idea how to help her.
Czech, a pediatric neurologist, arrived to consult on Jade’s case. She confirmed that the little girl had acute necrotizing encephalopathy, which usually is caused by a viral infection.
But ANE is so rare doctors didn’t know how to proceed. One study Czech found revealed that three of the four children diagnosed with ANE died.
The physician treated Jade with steroids to try and reduce the swelling in her brain. On Jan. 1, the start of the New Year, her family gathered to pray for her.
“Heavenly father will you wrap your angels around Jade this morning and throughout the day and pray for healing today.”
When her mom walked into Jade’s hospital room to check on her, she rushed out grinning.
Jade had woken up.
“She’s got her eyes open. She’s looking around. We got a couple of hand squeezes! And then we got a smile!”
Slowly but surely, Jade’s condition improved. Doctors removed her breathing tube, then she sat up. Eventually, she could eat and craved chocolate pudding.
She slowly started chatting with her mom and others, but everyone noticed something odd. When Amanda put Jade’s favorite stuffed animal in front of her face, she didn’t look at the white unicorn. When she tossed a ball, she didn’t track its path with her eyes.
An ophthalmologist examined Jade and declared her eyes to be just fine. The flu’s impact on her brain was farther reaching than they originally thought, doctors realized.
“It affected the part of her brain that perceives sight, and we don’t know if she’s going to get her vision back. In about three to six months from now, we’ll know. Whatever recovery she has at six months, that’s likely all she’s going to get.”
In addition to the risk of permanent blindness, Jade also might have lasting cognitive or developmental problems. Still, the sheer fact that Jade was up and talking after being on the brink of death Christmas Eve was a miracle.
When Jade finally was released to go home, the first thing she did was reach out and touch her sister Catalina’s face. Then she burst into tears.
It’s taken some adjusting, but Jade is learning how to navigate her home and her life surrounded by darkness. In the meantime, the family hopes, prays and waits for their little girl to be able to see once again.
Watch Jade’s story below and see why her parents are pushing for everyone to get the flu shot who is able.
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