Tandy Harmon was looking forward to her best friends wedding and full of energy as she helped care for her grandfather. That all changed suddenly as she became sick and learned she had the flu.
The young mother of two got sick enough that she did as many people do, she headed to the local emergency room. Even though this is flu season and hospitals are seeing countless cases of this deadly flu, she was not given much to worry about in the hospital.
They sent her home to deal with the flu on her own, and now she is dead.
At 36-years-old this healthy mom was not supposed to die. She is not in the age groups that are heavily impacted by the flu.
Her family is also stunned as she went from being full of life to barely getting herself together enough to get to a Portland, Oregon hospital. She thought the hospital would help her, but instead, they sent her on her way.
It seems in this case hospital staff did not realize how sick she was. A day later Harmon was rushed back to the hospital and put on a ventilator.
Harmon fought for three days to live. When she died, she left behind two children, Madison and Jimmy. Madison is 11 and Jimmy is 12.
Beyond her two children, her extended family and boyfriend struggle to understand how this happened. She recently moved in with her grandparents to care for her ill grandfather.
Her boyfriend Steven Lundin seems to be having a more significant issue with the hospital dropping the ball. He shared his pain and frustration as he stated:
“Who’s to blame? Do you blame God? Do you blame the world? Do you blame the doctors?”
While the family deals with the unexpected death, there are many questions about the failures of the hospital staff. Many point to the crews being overwhelmed by the number of cases of the flu this year.
Researchers point to another cause of this type of flu quickly turning deadly. Dr. Buddy Creech has suggested that there is perhaps a genetic marker or other immune system related characteristic that makes the flu dangerous for some people.
Dr. Creech is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt. He has pushed for hospitals to step forward to take blood samples from those who have died from the flu to see if there are things that are similar to all the cases.
Doctors at Scripps Research Institute have noticed a trend as far as the deaths of young adults tied to the flu. They are often tied to an overactive immune system creating a “cytokine storm.”
A cytokine storm happens when the body produces too many immune cells, and the body starts fighting itself. When the body is flooded with these cells, they need a place to go.
This storm pushes the immune cells into the lungs. This can cause inflammation and fluid build up.
The fluid build up in the lungs can quickly turn into pneumonia. It can also make it very hard to breathe and send a patient into respiratory distress.
At the time that Harmon sought medical attention, she reported having troubles breathing. There is a chance that her body was is a cytokine storm and fighting from inside.
Sadly Harmon was not the first seemingly healthy patient to die from what could be a cytokine storm.
At the same time that Harmon was fighting for her life, a mother on the other side of the country called for medical assistance from the local hospital. Emily Muth, who was six years old, was having problems breathing.
Muth’s parents called for help, and the paramedics confirmed that the little girl had the flu. They checked her over and declined to take her to the hospital.
Her parents were told to keep her home since she had the flu. Within hours of the interaction with paramedics, Muth died.
Because she was having problems breathing, it is possible that something like the cytokine storm push cells into her lungs.
Having fluid or extra active cells in their lungs could have pushed the flu to turn deadly for both Muth and Harmon.