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Immunity Health & Wellness

How Flu Led to the Death and Near-Death of Two Siblings

Meet the family that has lived through grief, surgeries, and hospice care because of a disease that is often called “just the flu.”


During the 2019-2020 flu season, almost 400,000 people were hospitalized and 20,000 died from the flu. Kayauna and her younger brother, Josiah, are two of the faces behind those statistics.   

Kayauna was a 20-year-old who worked in an elementary school classroom and had recently married. Initially when she got sick with the flu, she stayed home for a few days. However, her symptoms returned and then got much worse. She was hospitalized with pneumonia and sepsis, a blood infection. Her skin turned purple and her heart stopped three times. She died  just before a life flight arrived that was supposed to take her to a larger hospital.

Missed funeral

The day after his sister died, 18-year-old Josiah went to urgent care for evaluation of his own flu symptoms. Like his sister, his symptoms only got worse with time. On the day of Kayauna’s burial, he was too sick to attend. When he should have been grieving his sister’s sudden death, he went to the hospital with the same illness that killed her. He was immediately put on a ventilator.

A month later, as the country went into lockdown for COVID-19, his mom was no longer allowed to be at her son’s bedside while he fought for his life in the ICU. A surgeon told Charity over the phone that he did not believe that Josiah would live for more than a few months. She thought she might never see him alive again.

Fortunately, after almost two months in the hospital on life support, Josiah recovered and was sent home in April 2020 for hospice care. Now, over a year and a half after getting the flu, he is still recovering. He recently had yet another surgery and still has to have his lungs monitored because of the severe damage caused by the flu.

Families Fighting Flu educates about the seriousness of influenza and the importance of annual vaccination so that no one suffers serious flu complications or death.

Kayauna and Josiah’s stories might have had a happier ending if they had been vaccinated against the flu. Flu vaccination may not be perfect, but the annual shot or nasal spray can substantially reduce the risk of hospitalization and death.

Similar to flu, COVID-19 vaccines have been criticized for not working effectively and being used for a disease that is mild for most healthy individuals. But vaccination is a team sport that performs best when everyone takes part.


By not getting vaccinated against flu and COVID-19, people like Josiah remain at risk of severe outcomes. And healthy people are also at risk.

Don’t let your story end with “What if I had gotten vaccinated?” In memory of those who are not with us as we enter a new year, please consider getting vaccinated against both flu and COVID-19.

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