TACOMA, Wash. — Losing a child to the flu is not something most parents think about when their kids get sick, but with this year’s dominant strain proving to be extremely dangerous, it’s becoming a real concern.
Pictures of 5-year-old Scarlet lay on the dining table of her Tacoma home.
“Her giggle, her stringy brown hair, her blue eyes, it sucked you right in, she was contagious,” mom Rebecca Hendricks recalled. She says her daughter was a performer at heart who loved life and made everyone around her smile.
On a Wednesday in December 2017, Scarlet came home from kindergarten with a fever of 103.
"I gave her some Tylenol, gave her some tea, put her on the couch, put on a movie and started cooking dinner," said Hendricks.
Like any parents, Hendricks didn’t think much of her daughter’s symptoms and says the Tylenol helped lower the fever. The following day they ran errands, had a dentist appointment and on Friday Scarlet woke up chatty and hungry for breakfast.
"She had Captain Crunch, that was her last meal,” said Hendricks.
After breakfast Hendricks put on a movie to watch with her daughter on the couch.
"She fell asleep about 5-10 minutes into the movie and I noticed her breathing sounded weird,” recalled Hendricks.
Hendricks says she woke her daughter up after hearing raspy breaths. She asked Scarlet is she was okay, her daughter responded that she was but Hendricks noticed she wasn’t herself.
"She looked past me, like through me. I was like I need to take her to the hospital," said Hendricks.
Hendricks says Scarlet’s oxygen level was at 70% when they arrived at the hospital.
"It was like a movie," Hendricks says about what happened over the course of the next four hours.
Doctors quickly started tests that showed Scarlet’s lung was full of fluid. After throwing up blood, the 5-year-old was taken to the ICU where she flat-lined three times.
"The last time the doctor just said to me, 'I’m sorry your daughter is gone, she’s dead.' I just screamed. When you walk into the hospital you think they’re going to fix you,” said Hendricks.
Four hours after Hendricks walked into the hospital with her daughter, Scarlet passed away.
"I laid in her hospital bed for five hours after she died with her little lifeless body,” said Hendricks.
Weeks later doctors told Hendricks Scarlet’s cause of death was the flu.
“I didn’t even know flu killed people,” said Hendricks.
Hendricks says Scarlett didn’t get a flu shot, but she says even if it was only 10% effective, it might’ve helped.
"I’d take 10% over no percent if it meant that much of a difference. her symptoms could’ve been less, her little body could’ve handled it better if she had gotten that vaccine,” said Hendricks.
Hendricks has devoted her life after Scarlet’s death to a nonprofit called “The End-Fluenza Project” educating parents and raising awareness so no other family has to live on memories of their vibrant five-year-old.
“My daughter died less than 48 hours from her very first symptom,” said Hendricks.