Flu victimís mom on a mission
By Diana Leone
Advertiser Staff Writer
A Honolulu woman who lost her 27-year-old son to the H1N1 virus is starting a group to educate others about the deadly potential of swine flu.
Sharon McFadden's son, Jacob Ryan Schmidt of Baytown, Texas, died April 28 of the H1N1 virus and the Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome that followed.
The Kailua High School graduate "was strong, vivacious, young and gone in five weeks from the time he got the symptoms until his passing," McFadden said.
When Schmidt died, the medical team caring for him at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston "said he had no lungs left," McFadden said. McFadden's offer to donate one of her lungs was refused because doctors said Schmidt wouldn't survive the transplant.
Schmidt first felt ordinary flu symptoms on March 25. Within days he was at a Baytown hospital's emergency room, complaining that he "felt like he was going to die," McFadden said. But tests for H1N1 were negative and he was sent home with drugs to treat pneumonia.
Just a few days later Schmidt was back at the ER, tested positive for H1N1 and was admitted to the intensive care unit. It took 10 days to stabilize him for transfer him to the larger hospital in Houston, where he remained until his death, his mother said.
"It's just been burning on my heart, how to get publicity for this ó how to help people not to have to go through the loss that I went through," McFadden said. "It's really about getting the education out there. If he had had the H1N1 vaccination it wouldn't have been the H1N1 that killed him."
She's decided to form a nonprofit foundation along the lines of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
"They did something really positive from something so tragic," she said of MADD.
Schmidt grew up on O'ahu, attended elementary schools in Kailua and Kane'ohe and Kalaheo High before graduating from Kailua High. He was a healthy man who enjoyed mixed martial arts, worked as a driver for a medical supply company, and was happy with his family life in Baytown with wife Brandy and two stepchildren, McFadden said.
"He really strongly impacted a lot of people's lives. He was a really passionate guy and really lived in the present moment," McFadden said. "He had grown up to be an aspiring young man."
Schmidt never knew how he picked up the disease, since he wasn't aware of coming into contact with anyone who had it.
McFadden said she has been shocked to find, as she tells others what killed her son, that people's reaction is often, "Oh, I thought H1N1 was over."
"My main message I want to get out there is to wake up this community. H1N1 is thriving," McFadden said.
McFadden said as she talked with the doctors treating her son, she learned that the disease is "really attacking people born 1980 and later," because they weren't alive in the 1970s when a type of swine flu infected a number of people, giving them protective antibodies.
Hawai'i is not tracking non-lethal cases of the H1N1 virus, state Department of Health spokeswoman Janice Okubo said. There have been 13 confirmed deaths in Hawai'i from the disease, including one child.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control has confirmed 66,873 cases of H1N1 virus between the start of the pandemic in Aug. 30, 2009 and the week of May 22. The CDC reports 276 deaths of children 17 or younger from the H1N1 virus during that same time.
Barring an unusually high number of flu cases reported over the summer, detailed reporting on all strains of flu will resume in October, the start of traditional flu season, the CDC website says.
A total of 348,913 H1N1 flu vaccinations have been given in Hawai'i as of last week, Okubo said. An estimated 571,900 doses of the vaccine have been shipped to Hawai'i.
Okubo said the state will again offer free H1N1 vaccines at schools next fall. In the meantime, most doctors and clinics have access to the vaccine.
All of Schmidt's relatives who had been in physical contact with him ó including his mother, wife, step-children, brother Eric and others ó were vaccinated as soon as his H1N1 diagnosis was confirmed. None have come down with the virus, McFadden said.
McFadden said she felt slightly nauseous and achy the night she had the vaccine, but took some ibuprofen, went to bed early and woke up feeling fine. She feels any temporary discomfort is a small price to pay for being protected from a potentially deadly disease.
McFadden's foundation is an idea at this point. McFadden plans to talk with Hawai'i Health Department officials. "I do need some help getting the organization started," she said. "I would be more than interested in speaking to people who'd want to become a part of this."
She envisions going into schools and talking to groups about the seriousness of the disease and the merit of getting vaccinated.
McFadden said she'll be glad "if I can save one life from convincing someone to get their swine flu vaccination."
A memorial service for Schmidt is scheduled for 4 p.m. June 27 at Kailua Beach Park, at the pavilion near the boat ramp. The service will be followed by a potluck. More information can be found at Schmidt's Facebook page.
Schmidt is survived by his wife, Brandy, and stepchildren Isaiah and Halie Lige, of Baytown, Texas; mother, Sharon McFadden; father and stepmother, Bob and Tricia Schmidt of Humble, Texas; brother Eric Schmidt of Houston; grandfather Richard McFadden of Midland, Texas; grandparents Fred and Glenda Schmidt of Richmond, Texas; and numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, half- and step-siblings.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to The Jacob H1N1 Foundation, P.O. Box 240806, Honolulu, HI, 96824. For information about the foundation, contact McFadden at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-4668.