Leon Sidari was a healthy four-year-old from Dayton, Ohio with an infectious smile. He was a beloved brother and the son of two physicians. He was known as an “old soul” with patience and gentleness beyond his age.
Leon first became sick on December 23, 2017. His illness began with general symptoms including a fever and muscle aches. As physicians, his parents were aware of the common flu symptoms such as a cough, sore throat, chills, and headache, but Leon didn’t display any of these symptoms in the beginning. He spent the day sipping chicken noodle soup and watching cartoons on the living room couch.
The next morning, Leon began to have trouble breathing and his parents decided he required medical evaluation and treatment. Even as they prepared to leave for the hospital, Leon wasn’t acting particularly ill. He had eaten breakfast, dressed himself in his “big boy” jeans, and had put on his black Velcro sneakers.
At the hospital on Christmas Eve, Leon was diagnosed with influenza A and bacterial pneumonia. He was rapidly admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). His parents felt confident in Leon’s treatment plan and assumed that he would recover in short order. However, his medical condition rapidly deteriorated and he developed pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding in his lungs). Within less than twenty-four hours of arriving at the hospital and two days since his symptoms first began, Leon died of flu-related complications.
Unfortunately, Leon had not received an annual flu vaccine in 2017. His mother, Laura, had planned to get him vaccinated during a well-child visit later in the season, but he did not survive the flu season long enough to attend. Now, his mother understands why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone six months of age and older get vaccinated against the flu each and every year.
In the aftermath of losing her son, Laura discovered that Leon’s story was similar to many other pediatric flu-related deaths. She learned that roughly half of children who die every year from flu-related complications do not have a history of prior medical problems and approximately 80% of children who die from flu are not vaccinated.
On average in the U.S., over 100 children lose their lives to flu every year. However, studies have shown that flu vaccination can reduce the risk of death in healthy children by 65% and can reduce PICU admissions in children by 74%. Annual flu vaccination rates for children are generally less than 60-65%.
Following Leon’s death, Laura has discovered that there are many parents, and even other physicians, who have not always prioritized annual flu vaccination for their families. She shares her story in hopes that she can help prevent other families from experiencing a similar tragedy.
Every year in the U.S., flu causes 12,000 - 61,000 deaths, 140,000 – 810,000 hospitalizations, and 9,300,000 – 45,000,000 illnesses. Annual vaccination is our best preventative measure against flu and every year flu vaccinations help prevent millions of illnesses, tens of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands of deaths.
Story credited to Families Fighting Flu.