Potential consequences of not getting a flu shot

A Southcoast Health employee’s husband almost died from the flu in February 2019.

Greg Silver of Westport was diagnosed with pneumonia in mid-January, and later with the flu on February 4. The main symptom was severe chest congestion, a cough, and shortness of breath.

Greg’s wife, Cheryl, is a Nuclear Medicine Technologist in the radiology department at Charlton Memorial Hospital for 22 years.

As a healthcare provider, Cheryl knows the importance and is required to receive an annual flu shot. She ensures their children receive one also. “We all get them. Greg was never a believer, but he is now.”

Greg was prescribed antibiotics and steroids for at-home treatment. Once he finished treatment, he was still feeling ill. He received a second chest X-Ray that showed his pneumonia had improved but continued on the second round of steroids and antibiotics.

He continued with this treatment for several days until the morning of February 4. “I had not slept well, was very congested, and my heart was racing and pounding.”

This was different from anything he felt before. He called a friend to drive him to Charlton ED. At 9 a.m. that morning, he walked into the Emergency Department. “I tested positive for influenza A while in the ER. My oxygen levels were extremely low and the Doctors suggested that I be intubated. I consented and my last memory was signing the consent form for this procedure.”

Cheryl left Greg in the care of the Emergency Department around 1 p.m. Despite receiving a flu shot herself, she was feeling mild symptoms and drove herself to see her primary care provider with an awareness of Greg’s current state. “I too at that point would be diagnosed with the flu.”

The injected flu vaccine given to adults contains inactivated flu viruses, so it cannot give you flu. The flu vaccine reduces the risk of catching flu, as well as spreading it to others. The flu vaccines reduce the severity of the infection.

Greg’s health declined drastically, spiking a fever of 104.7 due to sepsis, a life-threatening condition caused by the body’s response to infection. “I had developed sepsis and acute respiratory distress syndrome.”

Within eight hours of being entering the hospital, Greg was in an induced coma, incubated and fighting for his life. “I had not gotten the flu vaccine simply because I do not like getting shots.”

By the time Cheryl settled her children in at home, they too had the flu at this point, both of them having had flu shots.

Cheryl drove back to the hospital, “Greg was beyond critical. He was vented and had blood coming out of his lungs. It was the scariest thing I have ever seen and really couldn’t comprehend what I was looking at. When I left him three hours earlier he was sitting up, making jokes.”

That is when the reality of Greg’s illness set-in. “The nurse told me to be prepared, they didn’t think he would make it through the night. I was told I had to get his family there and also was recommended I get a priest.”

She was beside herself in hearing the news. “How could this be? He was a strong, healthy 51-year-old man with no other issues.”

Greg would spend the next 24 days on life support in an induced coma.

Some below images are graphic, however Greg and Cheryl thought it was important to share to help others understand the potential consequences of not getting a flu shot.

After a week at Charlton, intubated in ICU, Greg’s health declined again as he lay in a rented state-of-the-art RotoProne Therapy System bed. At that point, Dr. Arvind Bansal suggested he transfer to Mass. General Hospital. “Plans were made quickly. The doctors and nurses worked as a complete, awesome team. Greg was med flighted to MGH in less than 5 hours.”

He spent another three weeks on life support at MGH. “When I awoke 24 days later I was too weak to sit up or rollover. I had received a tracheostomy and could not speak. I could not grasp the severity of what had happened to me health-wise”

“He couldn’t talk, walk or perform the most basic of tasks. All from the flu,” says Cheryl. “When they say the flu can kill you, it’s for real, because we almost lived it firsthand.”

Cheryl kept a constant vigil by his bedside while friends and family looked after their home and children. “One of my first concerns was about how were our bills getting paid. I was overwhelmed to find out that my friend Bob and my nephew Aaron started a go-fund-me page.” The page raised “more than enough to keep us going.”

Greg spent two more days at Mass General and then another week at Vibra Rehab. It took several more weeks of rest and at home before he could return to his normal life. “I had lost about 40 pounds and it would be two months before I could begin to work part-time.”

Two months after his flu diagnosis, “I was still easily fatigued and felt weak. The impact on my life has been tremendous. I have learned how fragile life can be and how rapidly things can change.”

For Cheryl, seeing her husband suffer through the illness was the scariest experience on all levels. “I didn’t know if he was going to live or die. Greg had to do all the fighting, but I guess luckily, he does not remember a thing. I lived it every day, by his side 24-7 for the entire time he was sick.”

Greg says he feels guilty knowing what his family and friends experienced while he was sick but says, “More importantly, I feel grateful for all the support we received from family, friends, employers, and strangers. I have debts I feel I can never repay and still cannot speak of these things without feeling very emotional.”

Cheryl’s flu vaccine beliefs are stronger now. “My views on the flu shot haven’t changed at all. If anything, it has just emphasized the fact of how important it is.” 

He was a healthy and active 51-year old when doctors gave him the flu diagnosis. “I have already received my flu vaccine this year and will never skip it again. I strongly encourage everyone to receive their vaccine; the insignificant inconvenience of getting the vaccine pales in comparison to the inconvenience of suffering from the flu, and the pain it causes those who care about you.”

“Greg is my miracle,” states Cheryl.

He is grateful to be alive, “I hope our story will encourage others the importance of receiving the flu vaccine and the consequences if you do not.”

More information on Immunizations.