5-Year-Old Max Gomez Dies From Swine Flu, Leaving Doctors Perplexed and Family Devastated

Five-Year-Old Max Gomez Dies From Swine Flu, Leaving Doctors Stunned and Family Devastated

The Aug. 28 weekend started out happily for 5-year-old Max Gomez. The cheerful and precocious boy from Antioch, Tenn., had just started kindergarten and was looking forward to a church trip to the zoo.

He seemed perfectly fine that Friday, but by Monday night, the apparently healthy boy was dead.

Max's case of swine flu has left doctors perplexed, with autopsy results pending to determine any underlying health conditions. Of the 36 children who have died so far of the H1N1 virus, two-thirds have had some underlying medical condition that made them more susceptible to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

VIDEO: Seemingly healthy 5-year-old fell ill and died within four days.
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But until he fell ill that weekend, Max was a perfectly healthy child.

"Max had gotten sick in the past," his mother, Ruth Gomez, told The Tennessean newspaper. "He'd had strep and ear infections, but he always came through. But, this time, everything happened so fast."

It all began on a Friday.

Max woke up Saturday with a fever that peaked a little higher than 102 degrees, according to The Tennessean. Although high, experts say, a 102-degree fever is not, in itself, a red flag.

VIDEO: Back to School Swine Flu Tips
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"One-hundred-and-two is not that uncommon," ABC's News' Dr. Richard Besser said.

His parents suspected routine illness and gave him an an analgesic.

By Sunday morning, Max's fever was gone, and he seemed playful and, more or less, back to normal. Still, his parents decided he should stay home from a church trip to the zoo.

Yet the next morning -- Monday -- the fever returned, along with a case of the chills.

Max's mother took her son to a local walk-in clinic, where the attending physician reported nothing out of the ordinary. But as soon as he returned home, Max's health continued to decline rapidly.

VIDEO: Young People at Greater Swine Flu Risk
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That evening, at 6 p.m., as his fatigue increased, Max's parents rushed him to Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Less than three hours later, he died.

Parents Do Everything Right but Son Dies: Could an Underlying Infection Be to Blame?

"This happened so fast," Ruth Gomez told The Tennessean. "At the beginning, we couldn't believe it. And, looking back, we did question why, but we just feel like everything happens for a reason, that hopefully other people would learn from this."

With such a fast and frightening timeline, questions abound: Could Max's parents or doctors have done anything differently? Should the boy have been given flu medications? Right now, the CDC only recommends the drugs for children younger than 5.

Doctors call for rest, fluids and a watchful eye from parents. Max's parents followed those guidelines.

Could Max's second fever have had anything to do with his precipitate decline?

A fever that returns could signal a bacterial infection that could have set in on top of flu, which, in rare cases, can be deadly, even if all the proper steps are taken, Besser said.

"What you look for is a child who has the flu who might be getting better, who then develops a high fever and who might not be acting right," Besser said.

If there's a second fever, Besser said, call a doctor immediately. Again, the Gomezes did what they were supposed to do, making this case all the more troubling.

With autopsy results not due for another two months, Max's parents will have to wait for an answer on his death. In the meantime, they are left with only memories.

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