Holmen boy, 7, hit hard by flu on family vacation

Jamie and Lee Lohrentz knew their son – whom they describe as a rambunctious redhead – didn’t feel well when he chose the couch over that day’s Arizona vacation adventure.

In a matter of hours, they watched 7-year-old Braxton go from resting on the couch to not being able to stand up, have a conversation or keep his eyes open. Besides that, he had a fever that wasn’t breaking – despite trying Tylenol and cool compresses. They knew he needed help – fast.

“The nurse practitioner at the urgent care clinic said, ‘I’m not sure what this is, but I don’t like it,’” said Jamie, a manager in business development at Gundersen Health System.

The urgent care team directed the Lohrentzes to a pediatric hospital in Phoenix where Braxton would undergo more tests, a CT scan and a lumbar puncture.

“The ED team told me they thought Braxton might have meningitis or a brain bleed,” said Jamie. “We were shocked. We knew he didn’t hit his head or sustain any trauma.”

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Results were coming back normal, but Braxton wasn’t getting any better. He was admitted to the hospital, where doctors predicted he’d stay for several days. But first, the precautionary COVID-19 and influenza tests.

That’s when the Lohrentz family finally got their answer: Braxton tested positive for influenza A.

More than 1,600 miles northeast, Jamie’s friend and fellow Gundersen colleague, Bridget Pfaff, was keeping tabs on Braxton through Facebook post updates. An infection preventionist, Bridget was shocked to learn that influenza was the cause of Braxton’s symptoms.

“This happened in early November,” Pfaff said. “You don’t expect a flu surge that early. This reminds us all that the best option we have for prevention is the vaccine.”

Jamie says the entire family — including younger daughter Hadleigh — always gets their flu shots together.

“This year, though, we were planning for and then going on our vacation,” Jamie said. “It just slipped our minds.”

The flu is more than just a cold

“I’m not surprised doctors thought it was meningitis based on Braxton’s symptoms,” Pfaff said. “Children tend to not eat and drink when first hit by a virus; they get dehydrated quickly. Why Braxton went to an unresponsive state so quickly is uncertain – the most important thing is that Jamie and Lee recognized that they needed help and supportive care. If a parent sees a child struggling to breath or become unresponsive, it is important to seek medical care quickly.”

This year, the country experienced an early and large flu wave. By the end of November, the rate of hospitalizations due to influenza was higher than that seen any year at this time since 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Care close to homeThe Lohrentzes were able to catch their scheduled flight home to Wisconsin, where Braxton spent 10 days recovering. Jamie says their care out of state was fantastic but having care close to home at Gundersen — from providers who know you — is incomparable.

She said, “It’s just a great feeling knowing the providers here know us by name and truly care about us.”

Spoiler alert, Vitamin C isn’t one of them. Veuer’s Tony Spitz has the details. 

Epidemiologist Dr. Katrine Wallace, known as Dr. Kat on social media, joins Brad Edwards on the stream to discuss another pandemic holiday season. This time, we also have an early flu season and RSV to also be concerned about.

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