The Story of Gianna Wehrkamp
Advocacy For most people, influenza resolves on its own. But sometimes, influenza and its complications can be deadly.
In January 2015, Gianna Wehrkamp was a healthy, bright-eyed two-year-old. Gianna was a happy, active child with a larger-than-life, fearless personality. Her story started innocently enough. On January 8, Gianna’s mother, Angie, picked her up from daycare. Gianna felt a little warm, so she gave her some Tylenol. The next morning, Angie noticed that Gianna’s breathing didn’t sound right. She took Gianna to the pediatrician, where she was diagnosed with H3N2 flu, a strain of influenza A, following a flu test. The pediatrician prescribed antiviral medication for Gianna and Angie took her home to rest. Gianna rested throughout the day as she watched cartoons.
Later that night, Gianna went to bed with her mother around 8:30. Gianna fell asleep pretty quickly, but later woke around midnight coughing and moaning. Her fever had returned, so Angie gave her more Tylenol. To ease Gianna’s coughing, her mother patted her on the back in an effort to help break up the mucus that sounded like it was invading Gianna’s lungs.
A little while later, Angie recalls hearing Gianna’s voice calling her. Angie assured her daughter that everything was going to be okay as soon as the medicine had time to take effect. When Gianna quieted down, Angie thought the medicine was working and Gianna was breathing with less difficulty. That was the last time Angie heard her daughter’s voice.
At 3:00 a.m. that same night, Angie woke to a parent’s worst nightmare. Her daughter had been sleeping in bed next to her, but she quickly realized that Gianna was not breathing. The paramedics were called and Angie performed CPR on Gianna while she waited for the emergency crews to arrive.
"The family made the decision to keep Gianna on life support long enough for several other family members to come and say their final goodbyes."
Approximately fifteen emergency responders entered the family home and attempted to revive Gianna. Her parents and brother waited anxiously nearby in another room of the house. After thirty minutes, the paramedics were able to get Gianna’s heart started again with the use of a defibrillator. As the emergency team prepared for transport to the hospital, a police car took Angie’s family to the hospital.
At the hospital, the doctors conducted a series of tests, which showed that Gianna had suffered irreversible brain damage. She was on life support and the doctors advised Angie and her family that Gianna would not recover. The family made the decision to keep Gianna on life support long enough for several other family members to come and say their final goodbyes.
Gianna’s mother, father and brother had all been vaccinated for the flu in 2015, but little Gianna had yet to be vaccinated. In less than two days, and with little warning, the flu took the life of a healthy, beautiful little girl. Her family wants everyone to know how serious the flu can be, even for healthy children like Gianna, and that annual flu vaccination for the entire family is critically important.