Teen Lands in Coma, Suffers Kidney Failure After Contracting the Flu

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Georgia teenager John Chelcy developed kidney failure after contracting the flu late last month. (Photo: Fox5 screen grab)

A Georgia mother is urging people to get the flu shot after an aggressive strain caused her 17-year-old son’s kidneys to fail.

John Chelcy’s ordeal started the day after Christmas 2019 in their central Georgia town of LaGrange. The typically healthy teen was suffering from muscle pain and fatigue.

“I couldn’t move by myself; I needed help,” he told Atlanta station FOX5.  “I couldn’t walk.  I couldn’t put on my clothes.”

LaToya Chelcy, his mother, took him to urgent care and when the doctor touched him during an examination, he screamed in pain. The doctor diagnosed him with the flu and recommended a trip to the emergency room. John begged his mom to take him home, but when he got there things took a turn for the worse.

LaToya took John to the emergency room, and the results of his urine sample were alarming.

“They made him do a urine sample. His urine was a dark color, [like] coffee,” she recounted to Today. The doctor determined his kidneys were failing and he was transferred to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. John’s kidneys dropped to 20 percent functioning and he ended up in the ICU in a medically induced coma. He also developed pneumonia in his right lung.

“He was in a coma for two days,” said LaToya. “That was the scariest time of my life.”

Thankfully, John’s condition improved after he was put on dialysis. He is still in the hospital but he will be sent home after a catheter is removed. LaToya can’t wait until her son “makes a full recovery and gets back to school and his regular life.”

John was attacked by the B strain of the influenza virus. Children under the age of 17 are particularly vulnerable to this strain. Thirty-nine children have died from the flu during the 2019-2020 season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Influenza A typically kicks off flu season and the B strain usually follows. However, influenza B struck early and experts cannot figure out why. Additionally, this season’s version of the flu shot isn’t as effective for strain B, according to CNN reports.

It is only a 58 percent match, meaning those who get the shot have a 42 percent chance of contracting the flu. Still, doctors advise people to get the shot.

“Even though the flu vaccination may not always keep someone from getting the flu, there is no question it absolutely diminishes the severity of the illness,” Dr. Stephanie Jernigan, Chief of Medicine at Egleston, told FOX5.  “That’s very important for our pediatric patients.

It is a lesson LaToya had to learn the hard way.

“When he leaves the hospital, we’re going to get a flu shot,” she declared.  “If his body can take it.  If not, when it’s time to get flu shots again, he will be first in line to get a flu shot!”

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