CLINTON — A Utah family who just lost their 5-month-old daughter to the flu is sharing their story in hopes that more people will get the flu vaccine.
Violet Villalobos died from flu-related complications on Jan. 31. She was two weeks away from being old enough to receive the H1N1 vaccine.
Violet’s parents say she was a happy baby who was sitting up and was almost crawling.
“She had the chubbiest thighs that you could ever imagine in your life, something that you’ve never seen, just huge and she had the biggest butt,” Michelle Villalobos, Violet’s mother, said with a chuckle.
“(Her) legs were so chubby, it was hard to put a diaper on,” said Richard Villalobos, her father.
She was also getting to the stage where she started getting interested in her 2 ½-year-old sister Olivia, he said.
Violet had always been healthy until contracting the flu.
“That’s the weird thing,” her mother said. “It didn’t present itself like the typical influenza.”
She said Violet developed a tiny cough on Jan. 28. The cough continued for the next two days, but she never had a fever. Violet also wasn’t acting differently nor was she grumpy.
She was OK until about 8 p.m. Thursday. That’s when she became whiny and couldn’t seem to get comfortable. She tried to comfort her daughter and laid in bed with her. A few hours later, around 1 a.m., is when she knew something was very wrong.
“She just started breathing like I’ve never seen a baby or anyone breathe,” Michelle Villalobos recalled.
She and her sister, who lives upstairs, rushed Violet to the hospital just up the street while her husband stayed home with their toddler.
“They gave her a breathing treatment and she got better. She was breathing normal, she was OK,” she said. But an hour later, Violet's breathing was worse, so they gave her another treatment.
Doctors diagnosed Violet with H1N1 and decided it would be best if she was transferred to McKay-Dee Hospital Center in Ogden.
When they arrived, Violet’s heart rate went up and down. Doctors gave her five or six treatments, but eventually the treatments stopped working. Doctors decided Violet needed to go to Primary Children’s Hospital.
“From the 20 minutes that they called the Life Flight (medical helicopter) team to when they got there, she crashed. She crashed the second the Life Flight team walked in,” Michelle Villalobos said, tearing up.
“Her heart rate was 250, 222, some crazy number and then it dropped to 135.”
Doctors began compressions and Violet’s legs started shaking.
“When she screamed and ran out and I ran in, I ran in there and there’s the Life Flight team doing everything they can,” Richard Villalobos said. “I stood in the corner. I just had to be in the room. I couldn’t run away.”
Michelle Villalobos said she was in shock — “just utter shock because she was fine and then she wasn’t.”
A nurse told Richard to be with his wife, for what she thought was “the final moment.”
“She wanted to get me in the hallway to go down the hall and talk to my wife,” he recalled. “I paced the hallway praying to God he wouldn’t take her. But it was her time.”
The Life Flight team worked on Violet all the way to the hospital. Violet took her last breath shortly thereafter.
The parents said that at first, doctors told them that Violet had a mild case of bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the bronchioles in the lungs. Later an X-ray would show that her lungs were full of liquid and she couldn’t get oxygen to her blood. The couple got the preliminary autopsy report from their doctor.
“Her lungs hemorrhaged, which is a very rare thing that happens with H1N1,” Michelle Villalobos said. “So there’s nothing that they could have done. There’s nothing we could have done different.”
They still don’t know where their little girl contracted the flu.
“It was fast, and nobody has the flu,” the mother said. “There are four children living in this house, and none of them have the flu. We’ve all gotten our flu shots, and Violet was two weeks shy of hers.”
The couple hopes that sharing their story will convince those who don't get the H1N1 vaccine that getting a flu shot could save someone else's life.
“If you can, do it,” Richard Villalobos said. “There’s no point in saying it’s not going to do anything. It could possibly save a life.”
“Don’t do it for yourself," his wife added. "Do it for the babies who can’t get it.”