Patient Profile: Amie and Cailey Welch

Influenza: A Family’s Fight for Survival

Patient Profile: Amie and Cailey WelchLittle can be more frightening for a parent than watching helplessly as your child fights for her life, connected to a ventilator, monitors, IV’s.

Just over a year ago, though, Amie Welch of Kalamazoo, MI was so ill herself, hospitalized with a severe case of influenza, that she was unaware that her daughter Cailey, then 10, was in grave condition, also because of the flu. Amie recovered in a month, but Cailey fought for six months before returning home.  “Moms are supposed to fix everything for their children,” said Amie, a mother of three. “It was hard to sit there and watch her go through this and not be able to help.” Cailey’s recovery was long, slow, and is continuing into 2011. She battles long-term effects of the flu and relies on an oxygen machine to assist her breathing periodically. She still has a tracheostomy, an opening in her trachea through her neck that she needed to help her breathe. Cailey has undergone several surgeries to remove tissue around the tracheostomy she received while ill; the tissue must be removed before surgeons can close the opening that was needed for the ventilator. Her lung tissue is permanently scarred by the high-pressured ventilator. Amie, 34, also is “easily winded” now, an effect of having been on a ventilator for a month herself. 

"This isn't a cold. It can happen to anyone."

Their lives and health were permanently changed by the flu, and by not having received a flu shot in 2009. Then, the H1N1 virus was circulating, but there was not yet a vaccine to protect against it. Before they contracted the flu, though, mother and daughter had been healthy, with no underlying health issues—a startling illustration of how severely anyone can be impacted by influenza. The rest of Amie’s family managed to avoid contracting the illness, including Cailey’s twin sister who has asthma, but the entire Welch family has seen firsthand the seriousness of the disease and the devastating effects it could have on healthy people. Amie and Cailey have joined the Faces of Influenza to educate other families about the seriousness of influenza and the need for vaccination for everyone 6 months of age and older.

“You have to take it seriously,” said Amie. “This isn’t a cold. It can happen to anyone. We’re proof of that and will get vaccinated to help prevent anything like this from happening ever again.”