Toddler Dies of Flu Just Two Years Before New Vaccine Rules

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Under 9, Child Gets 2 Flu Shots

"I vowed to tell our story to as many people as possible so that they will take the flu seriously," said Moise, a 41-year-old flight attendant. "We pray that no else has to go through what we go through every day."

Denise Palmer of Lakeland, Fla., lost her 15-month-old daughter Breanne to the flu.

"There is nothing worse than losing a child," said Palmer, 34. "You can't describe it."

As Christmas approaches, Palmer worries more than ever about her family -- an 8-year-old son and now another daughter, only two months old. Breanne died Dec. 23, 2003.

"This time of year freaks me out, and now we have a little one," Palmer said.

The family was visiting relatives in Maryland when Breanne developed a fever and, soon afterward, had trouble breathing. By the time they reached the hospital, the baby's temperature was 107 degrees.

"It happened really fast," said Palmer. "They worked to get her temperature down and said she needed more intensive care and transferred her to another hospital. When she got there, they told us she needed to be put on life support."

After airlifting Breanne to yet another hospital, doctors told the family there was nothing more they could do for the little girl.

Breanne never got her recommended flu shot because she had been sick with an ear infection.

"She had just finished a course of antibiotics the day before we left," said Palmer. "There was no time to get a shot. I sit there and wish I had been able to protect her."

Now, the entire family gets their flu shots every year. The baby gets her protection through Palmer's antibodies.

"We are very in tune with the recommendations," she said. "And with the new baby, we have a rule that anybody who has not gotten the flu vaccine cannot visit her. So it's their choice: If they don't get it, they don't get to see the baby."

As for the Lastingers, they welcomed a baby daughter just after Emily died.

"It was surreal," he said. "It turned out to be a good thing -- not right away, but it was helpful to have something to focus on other than ourselves."

Today, their daughter, Alea, is 8. Her older brothers, Chris and Andrew, are 16 and 14, respectively.

"We vaccinate them all," said Lastinger. "We've never missed a year."

But in a weird twist of fate, Alea was diagnosed with leukemia in 2007, at 3, the same age as Emily when she died. She underwent a grueling chemotherapy regimen and, as a result, vaccination became even more important.

"We had to live with someone who was severely immune compromised," said Lastinger. "It really hit home how important it is to protect yourself, to protect other people."

Today, Alea is in remission and "doing great," according to her father.

Even that ordeal seemed less daunting than the flu, according to Lastinger.

"For us, we can fight the cancer," he said. "We have the power to influence what we're doing."

As for Emily's senseless death from flu, "It was the hardest thing we ever had to go through," said Lastinger. "I cannot imagine anything being worse."

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