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H1N1: One family's terrifying ordeal

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  • H1N1: One family's terrifying ordeal

    Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010

    H1N1: One family's terrifying ordeal

    By Mary Meehan -

    Doctors applied the paddles to Maddy Kidwell's little body over and over and over and over.

    Four times in 10 minutes.

    Four times before her heart began to beat again.

    David Perry | Staff
    Maddy Kidwell, now 3, went from healthy toddler to frighteningly sick child in just a few hours last fall. The illness was diagnosed as H1N1 flu, and it once caused her heart to stop. The Somerset girl recovered, but she spent 45 days in Lexington hospitals. Her mom, Edith, said H1N1 hadn't been on her radar.

    David Perry | Staff
    The Kidwell family of Somerset, clockwise from top: Harold; Brooke, 15; Morgan, 8; Edith; Maddy, 3; and Jordan, 13. After recovering from a severe case of H1N1, Maddy required therapy to regain the ability to walk and talk. Her parents say she has made a full recovery.

    <!-- CLOSE: .image thumbnail -->
      Contact your local health department for vaccination clinics near you. For information on H1N1 or clinics, go to, or contact the Lexington health department at or (859) 288-7529.
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    Her parents, Harold and Edith Kidwell, knew something had gone badly wrong because the nurses wouldn't even let them near the room she was in.
    It was just another unreal moment in a string of unreal moments that had led them from watching their almost 3-year-old daughter play happily on the floor to waiting while she fought for her life.

    The H1N1 flu virus that hit Maddy so hard "wasn't even really on my radar," her mom said. She'd told her kids to keep their hands washed and had bought some hand sanitizer. But she didn't get them vaccinated. It didn't seem necessary, she said.

    "You never realize how easy it could happen to you."

    Maddy's case is extreme, but 229 children have died from H1N1 since August, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    State health officials reported that four of the 39 people in Kentucky who died of H1N1 have been children.

    The number of cases overall has waned in recent weeks, but CDC officials expect another surge as the nation enters what is typically flu season.

    Dr. Philip Bernard, who treated Maddy at Kentucky Children's Hospital, said H1N1 is "a completely preventable disease because there is vaccine available."

    Parents, he said, should keep that in mind.

    "The vast majority of children (who contract H1N1) are going to be very sick and miserable for a few days, then recover," said Bernard, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Kentucky School of Medicine.

    But, he said, "there is a small majority of children who are going to be severely affected."

    Children like Maddy.

    The Kidwells' ordeal began after a family trip to Ohio on Oct. 18. Maddy had seemed fine on the trip and as they started for home. But mile after mile, as the family went home to Somerset, Maddy started to fade. Then, from the back seat, her 13-year-old brother, Jordan, screamed: "Maddy! Maddy!"

    "She was in a full-blown seizure," Edith Kidwell said.

    They called 911, and the paramedics examined her. She was a little anemic but should be OK, they said. They were told to call the family doctor. Maddy checked out fine with the family physician, although she had a bit of a fever. Shortly after the family got home from that doctor's visit, though, she had another seizure.

    Bernard said children can sometimes have seizures as their temperatures change rapidly. It doesn't always mean something more serious is happening. This time, though, the Kidwells were told they should go to Kentucky Children's Hospital.

    It was a long ride, Kidwell said.

    At first, doctors thought Maddy might have meningitis, but they quickly determined she had the flu.

    "I was just ballistic, just going crazy," said Edith, the more talkative of Maddy's parents. "I couldn't figure out why my baby was doing this with her being so healthy besides allergies.

    "I was just numb."

    Things kept getting worse. Maddy developed staph pneumonia. That's what affected her lungs and heart so severely that she had to be resuscitated. After that, she spent three weeks sedated and on a ventilator.

    "We were really worried daily about whether she was going to make it," said Bernard, the physician. "It's very rare to have a child recover from having her heart stop."

    "There were several little babies that passed away because of the flu" while Maddy was in the hospital, Kidwell said.

    After about three weeks on the ventilator, Maddy improved. But those weeks had undone much of what she'd learned in her short life. She had trouble talking and eating and walking, and she had to have several weeks of physical therapy at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital before she could go home.

    Originally, the family was told she might be at Cardinal Hill as long as two months, but she was released after 10 days. From beginning to end, she was under care for 45 days.

    She made it home in time for her birthday on Dec. 20, when she got an Elmo microwave, a Dora the Explorer backpack and a Big Wheel.

    She is back on target, walking and talking as if nothing ever happened.

    Her parents, however, are still recovering from the shock of the whole thing.

    "You never dream about it and feel sorry for the other families and wish, 'God, I hope this never happens to me,' and then it happens," Edith Kidwell said.

    Bernard said he hopes the Kidwells' story will remind people to take flu seriously, whether it's the seasonal variety or H1N1, and consider vaccination.

    "The take-home message is, why would you want to subject your children from ever getting into this situation" when vaccine is available? he said.
    "Safety and security don't just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear."
    -Nelson Mandela