An increase in influenza A late in the season – a flu that accounted for approximately 99 percent of all influenza cases this year – has plagued thousands of people across the country.
In Portland, two young girls became motherless when she killed a 37-year-old woman and her unborn child.
Stephanie Shradar had the flu shot in October, as was often the case at the beginning of each flu season, said her husband Lee Shradar. He and her daughters soon followed.
While Stephanie was older for a pregnant woman, she had had two uncomplicated pregnancies with her daughters, taking care of herself. Her third child, a girl, should fall in the fall.
So Lee did not think much about it when Stephanie got sick on Monday. Her older daughter Vera, 7, also felt a bit ill.
Stephanie worked in her architectural office on Monday. The next day she stayed home because she felt worse. Lee came home for lunch to check on her and eventually ran to Rite Aid to get a new thermometer to make sure they could accurately gauge the fever Stephanie had started with.
She measured only 101.5 degrees, so she took Tylenol, drank some Gatorade, and rested the rest of the day.
Stephanie also called the gynecological clinic in Providence, where she was treated regularly. Suppliers prescribed a flu medicine there, which she had taken on Wednesday afternoon.
It made her feel a little sick, but Lee said that Stephanie was an extreme director for these kinds of things, so the label followed the medication.
Lee was optimistic on Thursday afternoon that Stephanie was doing better. She had made it to the couch to watch old episodes of The Office on Netflix. He gave her soup, went back to work and brought the girls to an afternoon event, then returned home at 8 pm. When she found out that her energy level had dropped, her face and eyes had begun to swell.
They consulted the gynecological clinic and Lee's mother, a former emergency room nurse, and decided to go to the emergency room.
Stephanie never came home.
Even healthy people are at risk
Stephanie was seen in the emergency room within an hour. An x-ray showed that her breast was fine. It was linked to infections to get fluids and medicines.
Lee slept home around two in the morning and was not very surprised to find out the next morning that Stephanie had been hospitalized overnight.
"She is ill and she is pregnant, it will take some time for her to recover," Lee said at the time.
Pregnancy weakens the immune system so that the mother's body can not ward off the growing baby. Although she was immunized against the flu this year, she faced an increased risk.
The flu vaccine this year also provides little protection against the influenza A strain, which has contributed to its spread and severity since mid-February.
In recent weeks, there has been extensive flu in almost every state and in the US. So far, Oregon has reached the flu season 2016/17 and could surpass it to come closer to the unusually bad year of last year.
Almost 99 percent of people in the Oregon who have flu this year have been diagnosed with influenza A. A report from the Oregon Health Department indicated that a child died of influenza in the first week of March. The report on the week of Stephanie and the death of her baby has not yet appeared. Oregon Health Authority officials refused to say how many children died this week. The state does not pursue influenza cases in adults.
Nearly 140 people were hospitalized this week and 150 the week before.
While most people who are hospitalized for influenza are usually 65 years or older, it is important for even healthy people like Stephanie to seek help early on if they have a weak immune system.
Pregnant women should consult a doctor as soon as possible if they experience flu symptoms, as a small fever can lead to birth defects in a baby, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Daughter born on her anniversary
The next day, Lee stopped work and spent most of the day with Stephanie, taking breaks to bring the girls to school and pick them up. She was in constant pain on Friday, and wanted Lee to put wet towels on his head, legs, and chest, feed her eggshell, and straighten the bed.
He had to give her a lunch of soft food, and she wanted him to do the same for dinner.
But when he took care of the childcare, food, and hospitalization, her condition had deteriorated significantly.
She was swollen and needed help to get to the toilet.
That night, she was admitted to intensive care where the nurses had difficulty getting blood pressure because her heart was so weak.
"That was when the ground started to fall out," Lee said.
By that time, her parents had flown from their Arizona vacation to Portland.
Stephanie stabilized for a while, but at 10 in the morning, the doctors came out of her room to tell Lee and her parents that they had lost the baby's heartbeat.
Lee and Stephanie had waited until the last few weeks to tell their daughters Vera and Eisley that they would soon have a new sister. They were careful because they knew that complications could occur.
They were a little unsure about the new baby. Stephanie wanted a third child, but Lee had been worried about time and sleep for the first time in five years.
But they were happy if they did not get a bit out of it, what that all meant.
Lee was devastated by the first death. But he found that at least the loss made it possible for everyone to focus on Stephanie and what she needed.
"We were really hopeful," Lee said.
But it did not take long. The doctors had gone down the hall to get water and juice for Lee and Stephanie's parents when room alarm 36 was announced for room 36 – Stephanie's room.
They watched the staff storm in and hear the machines beep. The hospital chaplain arrived.
They sat in shock and watched as the ICU doors opened and closed, opening and closing.
Then a doctor left Stephanie's room to tell Lee that they had lost his wife's heartbeat for two minutes. They resuscitated and got them back.
"We just came in because of the flu," Lee said. "She was strong, she was healthy. She did everything she should do. We just came because of the flu. "
The pneumonia had overtaken Stephanie's lungs in the last four hours. Over the next one to two days, she was intubated, undergoing dialysis and given dozens of medications to maintain her blood pressure and relieve her pain.
On Saturday morning, Lee's mother and brother were in town.
They all held Stephanie's hand and whispered how much she loved her.
"We were a team and would always be a team," Lee said. "I needed her to fight. And she did it. She fought. "
On Sunday, of course, her body gave birth to the baby – a good sign, the doctors said. Lee chose the name Alice May because Stephanie had suggested Alice and they both liked it. May was selected by her daughters.
It was March 10, 18 years to the day of Lee and Stephanie as a 19-year-old at the University of Kansas.
However, Stephanie could not pass the placenta, which meant a plan was in place to perform an operation the next morning.
Lee spent most of the sleepless night in a room above Stephanie's. Restless and worried, he slipped downstairs to hang out with her and the night nurse while everyone else slept.
His mother picked him up in the morning, and when they left the room to meet Stephanie's parents downstairs, a nurse got up and said another alarm had sounded in Stephanie's room.
The doctors tried several times to keep beating her heart, and finally the family agreed to one last operation.
At 8:25 am on Monday, a doctor told them that Stephanie had died.
"She would want to be a lawyer"
A week later, Lee still found it incredible that this vital woman he had spent his entire adult life with was missing because of the flu.
Stephanie was young, healthy and positive, Lee said. She was committed to a successful architectural career and felt that she was thriving on her current job. After years of wanting a dog, they had just adopted a puppy last year.
Lee knows what it's like to lose a parent. His father died when he was eight, almost as old as Vera. And now Lee had to give her and her sister the same terrible news.
He said he was surrounded by friends and family, support and love. A friend of the family founded a GoFundMe to raise funds for the future training of Vera and Eisley. Lee said he does not want them to miss college or more than losing their mother.
"I want to be able to deliver what my parents have provided us with for our girls," Lee said.
And he hopes that at least Stephanie's death could help raise awareness.
"I think she wants to help people get help when they need help and do not wait too long."