Rifle mother urges others to fight the flu after tragic loss of her son

October 25, 2011

“I wish I could rewind to before this nightmare began. The first thing I would do is get my children, my husband, and myself vaccinated against the flu,” said Regina Booth, who lost her 17-year old son, Austin, to complications from the flu in January of this year. Now, with another flu season approaching, Booth is reaching out and trying to get others to take precautions against the flu.

“If I could ever imagine that something like this could happen to my child, I would have done something to change the outcome,” she said. “These last eight months are beyond any words that could describe how I feel. When people look at me, I know they are trying to imagine my pain. It is impossible to put yourself in the shoes of a parent who has lost a child. You have to deal with the loss of someone you love more than you can explain. Plus, all of the dreams that we had for him are gone. I wish I could be watching my son Austin enjoying his senior year of high school and planning where he would attend college.”

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 began as a normal day. Regina took her sons Austin and Adam to the dentist. Austin was very happy that he had a clear check-up. Regina took him back to school so that he could start in the Rifle High varsity basketball game that evening against Glenwood. Austin was a popular student and a gifted athlete, who seemed to touch everyone with his caring and charming personality.

Wednesday morning Austin woke up feeling ill. “I gave him some over-the-counter medication and he went to school,” said Booth. Austin made it through the day, but by basketball practice that afternoon, he was sent home by his coach. “Austin’s dad and I figured Austin might have the flu. We went to the store and purchased some flu medications and some fluids we thought he would want to drink. I made Austin sleep upstairs that night, so I could hear him if he needed me.”

Thursday, January 13, Austin stayed home from school for the first time since his freshman year. By 10:00 a.m. he coughed up some blood and Regina called the doctor and took him in. Once they arrived, they were sent to the emergency room. Within a few hours, Austin was placed on a ventilator to help him breathe. “That was the last time Austin was awake, and that was the last time we spoke.”

From there, Austin was airlifted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. It was a fight for his life every second of every day thereafter. “Austin was so strong, but he had what the doctors were calling the perfect storm,” said Booth. Austin’s flu progressed to pneumonia. Austin was also found to have contracted the bacteria Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an infection caused by a strain of staph bacteria that is resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat ordinary staph infections. It was more than his body could fight.

On Monday, seven days after becoming ill, Austin Booth passed away from flu-related complications at St. Mary’s Hospital. “We were all there by his side, his dad, me, our families,” said Booth. “It felt like half the town of Rifle, including Austin’s coaches, teachers, friends, and relatives were camped at the hospital waiting for Austin to get better. The community was shocked and devastated to learn that such a healthy, active, strong young man could be gone just like that. It was so fast.”

Each year in the United States, 5-20% of the population will get the flu, accounting for 200,000 hospitalizations from flu-related complications. Getting an annual flu shot is the most important step in protecting against flu. Director of Garfield County Public Health, Mary Meisner, recommends everyone six months of age and older should be vaccinated. She also encourages taking simple precautions to avoid getting sick. “Most experts believe that flu is transmitted by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. Less often, people may get the flu by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth,” said Meisner.

Meisner also cautions that people may be able to spread the flu a day before they experience their own symptoms, and can be contagious for five to seven days after being sick. “If you have flu-like symptoms it’s important that you stay home and limit contact with others for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone,” said Meisner. “It is possible for healthy people to develop severe illness from the flu, so anyone concerned about an illness should consult a health care provider.”

“If I could give any advice from my experience, I would tell all parents to vaccinate their children against the flu. Austin was an amazing son, student, athlete, friend, and big brother to two sisters and two brothers who idolized him. I could not have asked for a more perfect son. He had tons of friends because he was so kind and caring. He did not have an enemy. His loss reaches out to so many,” said Booth. “Believe me, when someone says, ‘I don’t know how you do it, I just can’t imagine,’ you don’t want to imagine it. It is so terrible to wake up every day without your child.”

The Garfield County Public Health Department is holding community walk-in flu clinics in October and November, as well as taking appointments at the health offices. You can reach the health department by calling 945-6614 in Glenwood Springs, or 625-5200 in Rifle. The health department offers the flu vaccine in a traditional ‘shot’ or through a nasal ‘spray.’ The cost for the vaccine is $10 for children, and $20 for adults. No child will be turned away because of inability to pay.

Flu information