Matthew Healey first felt sick on Monday, Aug. 31, and started taking Tamiflu the next day, his mother said. The following day, a doctor told him he was likely infected with the H1N1 virus and prescribed an antibiotic. Three days later, weak and dehydrated, the Hingham teenager was taken by ambulance to University Hospital in Cincinnati and admitted to intensive care in critical condition.
Beth Healey said her 18-year-old son, Matt, was “perfectly healthy” when he packed for his freshman year of college in Ohio. Being a mother who paid attention to the news about swine flu, Healey made sure her son had flu-treatment medicine – just in case.
Matthew Healey first felt sick on Monday, Aug. 31, and started taking the prescription drug Tamiflu the next day, his mother said. On Wednesday, Sept. 2, a doctor told him he was likely infected with the H1N1 virus and prescribed an antibiotic. Three days later, weak and dehydrated, the Hingham teenager was taken by ambulance to University Hospital in Cincinnati and admitted to intensive care.
Healey died three weeks later. His case is a reminder that young people appear to be at higher risk when it comes to H1N1. And that death is a possibility, even when swift treatment is sought.
“This does tell us that despite our best interventions people can succumb to this,” said Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth.
Still, deaths from H1N1 and related complications have remained relatively few even as the country has been hit with a new wave of the disease.
But the death of an apparently healthy 18-year-old punctuates the need, Ellerin said, for people to get vaccinated when inoculations are made available, likely as early as next month, and to follow common-sense practices such as frequent hand washing and avoiding the workplace or the classroom while sick.
Though no unusual side effects have emerged during clinical trials, he said, people continue to say they’d prefer to “take their chances” rather than trust a new vaccine.
“Every year 36,000 Americans die of influenza,” he said. “I certainly don’t hear of 36,000 people dying of flu vaccine.”
After Healey was admitted to the hospital, Beth Healey said she and her husband, Bob, immediately flew to Ohio to be with their son. For 36 hours he was “awake and alert,” Healey said, but his condition worsened, and he was put on a ventilator and kept sedated.
For friends and family, Healey’s struggle challenged their belief that swine flu’s seriousness was “over hyped” by the media, Beth Healey said.
“Do I want to cause drama or fear among people? I most certainly do not,” she said Monday. “But if this happened to our family, it could happen to any family.”
Matthew Healey had been on campus less than two weeks when he got sick. His three roommates soon fell ill, too, but they recovered quickly and without hospitalization, his mother said.
Dr. Ellerin said the onset of H1N1 is similar to other influenzas. It can cause fevers and muscle aches and weakens the immune system.
“In most people it stays in check and doesn’t get in the lungs,” he said.
When it does, the virus can bring on viral pneumonia and leave patients susceptible to bacterial infection. There also have been cases where a patient has died because of irregular clotting in the lungs, Ellerin said.
Matthew Healey was a wrestler and a lacrosse player at Thayer Academy, where he also took part in student theater. The community voted him “Mr. Thayer” before he graduated this past spring, according to an obituary. In May, he traveled to Peru on a volunteer humanitarian trip, working in an orphanage and on local farms.
“He made such an impression on people. That was his gift,” Healey said. “You don’t hear about the all-American boy anymore. He was an all-American boy.”
John P. Kelly may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sanitary: Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze. Wash your hands often, especially after you cough or sneeze. Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
Stay home: If you’re feeling sick, stay home. Going out may not only make you worse off, but you’re more likely to get others ill. And if you’re healthy, try to steer clear of cramped quarters, large crowds and others who appear sick.
Knowledge is power: Check with health authorities, read reputable press reports and generally keep on top of developments related to the H1N1 virus. The more you know, the better off you’ll be.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; South Shore Hospital