The truth about the flu: It’s more serious than you think

(ARA) – Martin McGowan was a healthy, athletic 15-year-old with a passion for baseball. After his high school baseball tryouts in early February 2005, Martin was exhausted and said his legs hurt from running. He went to bed, and at 2:30 a.m. that morning, Martin’s mother awoke to hear her son vomiting in the bathroom. He had a fever of 102 degrees.

Martin’s symptoms progressed throughout the morning, with the pain in his legs worsening. His mother called the doctor who recommended either an appointment for later that afternoon or to take Martin to the emergency room. Martin said he needed to go to the emergency room.

Once at the hospital, Martin’s lips were so white the ER doctor administered intravenous fluids. Martin tested positive for influenza. As a result of the influenza disease attacking his muscles, he developed compartment syndrome, which limited his blood circulation in his legs and caused severe pain.

The doctors explained to Martin’s mother that he would need an operation as soon as possible. If the blood flowing to Martin’s legs ceased for an extended period of time, they might have to amputate his legs.

During the surgery, Martin’s heart stopped beating. Shortly after, Martin died of complications from influenza, merely 24 hours after his first symptoms appeared. Martin had not been vaccinated against the flu.

After Martin’s death, his mother, Diane McGowan, joined Families Fighting Flu, the only non-profit organization made up of families who have experienced first-hand the death of a child due to the flu or have had a child experience severe medical complications from the flu.

The flu is a serious disease that spreads very easily. It can cause mild to severe illness, and can lead to death – even among healthy, older children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), annual vaccination is the single best way to prevent influenza in people of all ages.

“We should have gotten Martin vaccinated,” said McGowan. “Now, I can only hope that his story will be an encouragement for other families to get their children vaccinated every year.”

During the 2009-2010 flu season, the CDC estimated that 274,000 people were hospitalized in the U.S. from influenza – more than 85,000 of them were children. Tragically, an estimated 1,200 children under age 17 died from the flu last season.

“In developed countries, influenza kills more people than any other vaccine-preventable disease,” said Jon Abrahamson, M.D., chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Wake Forest University Medical School in Winston-Salem, N.C., and a medical advisor for Families Fighting Flu.

The CDC now recommends that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated against the flu, creating the first universal flu vaccination recommendation. For children younger than 6 months, it is important for family and caregivers around them to get vaccinated.

“It’s not just children who need to get vaccinated, it’s the entire family,” said Laura Scott, executive director of Families Fighting Flu. “A flu vaccine reduces your risk of illness, hospitalization, or even death and can prevent you from spreading the virus to your loved ones.”

The flu virus tends to spread from October to May, with the most cases occurring in January or February. However, vaccination can be given at any time during the flu season. Even getting a vaccination later in the season (December through March) can still protect you from influenza.

For more information about the flu, to find flu vaccines in your area or to support flu prevention education, please visit, or find us on Facebook.

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