On December 18, 2012, Caroline came home from kindergarten with the sniffles and a mild cough. As the evening progressed, her breathing became more labored and her parents contacted their pediatrician. Unfortunately, by 1 a.m. there was no real improvement. In fact, her condition had worsened.

Two terrifying weeks

Jennifer Miller remembers, “My daughter’s chest was heaving, as though she were running on the playground. We decided to take Caroline to the hospital, as a precaution—or so we thought.

 “In the next terrifying 48 hours, she would be rushed from hospital to hospital,” Miller says, “in order to save her life.”

At the first hospital Caroline was diagnosed with influenza A and double pneumonia, and placed on oxygen. After a long, sleepless night with no improvement, Caroline was transferred to a second hospital, but her condition began to deteriorate and she slipped into life-threatening acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Caroline was immediately intubated and transported via helicopter to a third hospital, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). The five-person medical team hand-respirated Caroline for the entire 27-minute flight to CHOP.

"Caroline had been vaccinated against the flu every year except that year; once the busy school year began, getting vaccinated fell off the 'radar.'”

The list of what Caroline was facing was frightening: flu, pneumonia, sepsis, septic shock, hypoxemia and impending cardio-respiratory failure. Her small body was flooded with antibiotics, everything and anything to help her fight off the infections ravaging her lungs. Caroline would remain in a drug-induced coma, intubated and on a ventilator for two long weeks.

A belated Christmas

On Christmas Day, Caroline’s condition took a turn for the better, and there were daily signs of progress in her lung, kidney and heart functioning. Caroline was fighting her way back! After three long, agonizing weeks at CHOP, Caroline was able to go home. Santa Claus arrived on January 12, for a very merry, belated Christmas.

Caroline had been vaccinated against the flu every year except that year; once the busy school year began, getting vaccinated fell off the “radar.” Jennifer Miller admits, “The fact that we neglected to make it a priority was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made as a parent. That mistake and lack of judgment nearly stole my child’s life and has changed our entire family’s lives forever. I want families to know that the flu can be life-threatening and getting vaccinated against the flu should be on every parent’s to-do list, every year.”

The Miller are now advocates for Families Fighting Flu (FFF), a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) volunteer-based advocacy organization founded in 2004 by families who lost a child to influenza. FFF is dedicated to educating people about the severity of influenza and protecting the lives of children.