Covering Louisiana

Jan 25, 2014 12:10 PM by AP

Rapides Parish teen's death shows danger of flu

BOYCE, La. (AP) - Jawanda Wood knew something was wrong with her son.

Tyler "Twig" Wood had never let a cold stop him if there was someplace to go or something to do. But he was spending all day in bed, not even moving to respond a phone barrage of texts and calls.

He had never missed a meal, but would take only a bite or two.

A few days later, he was dead.

The infection that killed the 18-year-old from Boyce last week was confirmed through blood tests to be H1N1, the strain that caused a global health crisis in 2009. H1N1 has an increased likelihood of producing severe disease in children and young adults.

"It has definitely devastated this school and this community to lose a great kid at such a young age," said Brandon Cedus, who coached and taught Tyler for years. "It's just left a huge void out here."

"To hear that mouth again, for us to be arguing about stupid stuff like money or clothes or it was time to change the oil in his truck," his mother said. "I would have done anything. I would have traded places with him in a second."

According to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, there were 20 confirmed flu deaths in the state from Oct. 1 through Jan. 10, the day Tyler died.

However, hundreds of people die in Louisiana every year from the flu or other conditions made worse by it without a flu diagnosis. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, there may have been up to 300,000 cases, up to 500 hospitalizations and up to 200 deaths from influenza in Louisiana since the season started in October.

H1N1 is particularly concerning because of its recent history and its tendency to hit young people. The 2009 pandemic caused 18,449 confirmed deaths globally, but the actual toll is thought to be many times higher. A CDC research team estimated it could have been as high as 284,000.

An 8-year-old girl from Bossier City also died this season from H1N1.

"This is scary because it does affect younger people," said Dr. David Holcombe, medical director and administrator for Region 6 of the Office of Public Health in Alexandria. "Every year, people die from the flu, but they're often older people who have other health complications. It's a terrible tragedy when a young person dies from this."

Complicating matters, the swab test often used in hospitals and medical offices is not 100 percent accurate. More accurate blood testing often requires days.

The CDC has recommended health-care providers treat patients for H1N1 if they believe there's a chance the patient is infected.

Health officials expect this flu season to last into April. Holcombe said it probably would peak in late January or early February.

The best protection, Holcombe said, is vaccination. The local Office of Public Health ran through its supply of vaccine months ago, but the shot is available at many other places, including pharmacies. Washing your hands often with soap and water, or an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap is not available, also helps.

Tyler Wood first developed a cough on New Year's Eve, a Tuesday. His mother took him to the emergency room Friday. He was diagnosed with acute bronchitis, given shots, a prescription and an IV, and sent home.

He didn't seem to be getting better. The family went back to the ER Monday morning.

Despite oxygen and antibiotics, his breathing was so labored that doctors got permission to put him on a ventilator.

"He just kept going downhill," Wood said. "It all happened so fast."

Over five days in the hospital, the infection in his lungs kept spreading. Doctors told Wood they needed a miracle. Finally, they told her it was time to say goodbye.

"I told him he didn't have to fight anymore," she said. "I told him I was behind whatever decision he made. That was between him and God, and I would honor it."

When family and friends buried him on Jan. 13, the funeral procession seemed to stretch forever. Nearly 1,000 people signed the guest book at his wake and funeral.

"I'm grateful for everybody's prayers and thoughts," Wood said. "That's the only way I'm going to make it through this."

Those who Tyler left behind remember him as wild but big-hearted - the kind of kid who could drive you crazy one minute and make you love him the next.

He was babied by his mother and not immune to trouble, his family said, but was never selfish or mean-spirited. If he knew a kid needed something to eat or a place to stay, he brought the kid home.

"He was the jokester, the one who kept everybody laughing," Cedus said. "He loved his friends and family. He was just pure boy - rippin' and roarin' and living his life. He had a wild side, but in all the years of knowing him, I can't remember one disrespectful thing he said or did to me."

"Tyler lived every day like it was his last," Wood said. "He used to say, 'Mama, no disrespect, but I'm gonna do what I want to do,' and he did. I have no regrets about that now. I'm glad he lived life the way he wanted to live life."

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