Sunday, December 6, 2009

At death's door with H1N1 for three weeks

Last update: December 6, 2009 - 8:02 AM

Kim Lange's son was still coherent when the doctor said it was time to put him on a ventilator. He was as stoic as he could be -- a 23-year-old who had never been sick. But the look of terror in his eyes as he looked up from the hospital bed tore her heart.

"He said, 'Worst- case scenario, huh, Mom?' '' Lange recalled. "And I fell apart.''

Her son, Brad, just had the flu. The same H1N1 virus that has infected an estimated 22 million people in the United States -- and left most of them largely unscathed.

But in a small fraction of children and young adults the virus is unexpectedly deadly. For unknown reasons some perfectly healthy patients, like Brad Lange, end up in the intensive care unit, drowning in their own fluids.

It's a mystery that health officials badly want to solve, because H1N1 will most likely be back, maybe sooner than later.

As the New England Journal of Medicine put it recently: "No one should be complacent about an unpredictable virus capable of killing children and young adults in their prime."

Kim Lange certainly isn't.

Not anymore.

"Brad was always so proud that he never got sick," she said. "That's why this is so unusual that it would happen to him of all people." Brad Lange, of Hugo, started feeling lousy on a Saturday in mid-October. He was at a furniture store with his fiance, and he remembers looking longingly at the couches, keeping his eye out for the one he could fall into if he passed out.

On Monday he went to the doctor, who told him he had pneumonia and sent him home with pills. On Tuesday, when his temperature hit 104 degrees, his mom took him to the emergency room, where he got intravenous fluids and more pills. On Wednesday he went back to the doctor, who called an ambulance to take him from the clinic in Forest Lake to United Hospital in St. Paul. An ambulance? Kim Lange was shocked.

"Pneumonia. That was all. That's what I had," Brad Lange recalled. "I didn't know how serious pneumonia can get."


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