When he was 6, my youngest son Nikolas told me that he wanted to be a paleontologist. It was a new word for me. I even had to go look it up!
Nikolas was planning to be a builder of many things. Along with his love for math and science, he had a great love of books. Nikolas always had a story to write or tell. I never thought this would be one of them.
Heading into every holiday season, I'd see stories about the flu on TV and "Get your flu shot here" signs around town. As a healthy mother of three healthy boys, I tuned out the news stories and walked past the signs. I was confident my sons and I would be able to overcome the flu even if we came down with the virus.
During a routine check-up in the fall of 2012, my husband asked our pediatrician if we should have Nikolas vaccinated for the flu. She left the choice up to us. My two older boys were 19 and 16 and had never been vaccinated against the flu.
"Nikolas was only 9, but he was healthy, and all of his other vaccinations were up to date."
So, we opted not to vaccinate that year.
Just a few months later in March 2013, Nikolas's teacher called on a Wednesday to say he was not feeling well at school. My husband picked him up, and we brought him to the doctor the next day. Nikolas had contracted the B strain of the flu virus. We kept him hydrated and encouraged rest. The symptoms still got worse, and he complained of chest pain. On a Saturday, he went into cardiac arrest. Nikolas, my surprise baby who brought so much joy to our lives, passed away that night.
The pain is unbearable. I wish for no parent to ever have to go through what we have experienced. We are still trying to move on in our life without him. He remains in our hearts, memories, dreams and thoughts every day.
There's even a memorial park for him at Murdock Elementary School. Nikolas inspired me and his two older brothers to start a small baking business. Nikolas loved visiting farmer's markets with me, and he loved to put on a chef's hat and apron and help me bake in our kitchen.
When I think back on the decision of whether to vaccinate Nikolas, it seemed simple enough. As a healthy family, we didn't see the risk. We didn't understand the severity of the virus or the implications that vaccinations have on everyone we encounter. When you get the flu vaccine, you are not only protecting yourself. You're protecting your family. You're protecting your friends. You're doing your part to stop the spread of the flu.
We'll never know exactly where Nikolas contracted the flu. It may have been a door handle or a water fountain. The germs can live on surfaces for up to eight hours, and a sneeze can carry them across a room. I now know that more than 90 percent of people who die from the flu are either not vaccinated or have weakened immune systems. Now, I understand the risk.
For anyone reading this and thinking that their family will not become another flu statistic: yes, the odds are in in your favor. I know that some people question the effectiveness of vaccines. But, from my perspective, I'd much rather know that we did everything possible to protect our son than be left to wonder what if.
To help protect your family this flu season, consider these tips from the pediatric experts at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.