A father of four from Southern California is in a fight for his life after he contracted influenza during an intense flu season that has put stress on many of the nation’s hospitals as their emergency rooms continue to fill up with patients experiencing symptoms.
Shawn Burrough, 48, is now heavily sedated and breathing with the help of a ventilator at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, California, after first showing signs of influenza over the Christmas holiday.
“His symptoms were a cough, body aches, runny nose, congestion, low-grade fever—typical symptoms,” his wife, Jennifer Burroughs, 36, of Lakeside, California, tells PEOPLE. “Things got worse about day five when he said his chest was tightening and he said it was hard for him to get his breath.”
On Dec. 30, Burrough went to urgent care, where doctors prescribed ibuprofen and an inhaler and advised him to rest. Yet, because he is the sole provider for his four children, Burrough—an aerospace quality assurance inspector—felt compelled to continue working as his health worsened. On New Year’s Day, Jennifer found her husband on the couch in their living room rocking back and forth struggling to breathe.
Jennifer took her husband to the emergency room, where doctors discovered Burrough had contracted influenza type-B and was experiencing renal failure. Additionally, his white blood cell count was high and he had a severe case of pneumonia.
More than 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized each year in the United States because of the flu, and since the virus can sometimes lead to pneumonia, it becomes increasingly deadly. According to the CDC, the flu and pneumonia combination was the eighth leading cause of death in 2016.
“Shawn is extremely ill. He is going to be receiving a very strong antibiotic that will help kill the staph in his lungs. He is also being put into a Rotoprone bed to help increase his oxygenation,” Jennifer explains. “His Infectious Disease team is hopeful he will recover but he is still very, very sick. His kidneys have shut down, he’s on constant dialysis, he’s on a ventilator, and he is on medication to maintain his blood pressure.”
Jennifer admits the family did not receive the flu vaccination this season because it reportedly had a low success rate, but after Shawn’s hospitalization, their two youngest children were checked for the virus—and tested positive. Fortunately, their lungs are clear and doctors expect them to recover.
Even though the flu shot isn’t 100 percent effective, it can still lessen the chance of someone catching it by 10 to 60 percent, according to the CDC.
Augie, the couple’s 4-year-old son, has taken Burrough’s hospitalization hard, and Jennifer says he cries when he sees a picture of his father.
“Shawn is a great man, he’s a stubborn, big-hearted softie that has a hard exterior,” Jennifer says of Burrough, a U.S. Navy veteran who fought in the Gulf War who she has been with for 17 years. “But he’s all mush on the inside.”
As of Friday, she says doctors are keeping Burrough in a constant state of sedation to let his body heal. While things seem dire, she is holding on to hope.
“I have been told that there is a possibility he will not survive. I am doing the best I can to maintain,” Jennifer says. “I am sad, scared, hopeful, I have to be strong for our four children. I am extremely scared—the thought of losing him is unbearable, and I cannot walk this earth without him next to me. He is my everything.”
A fundraising page has been set up to help the family with rent, groceries and utilities. Jennifer hopes other families seek immediate medical care if they notice symptoms, and follow doctors instructions, regardless of their occupational responsibilities.
“Don’t wait to get seen, don’t power through it because your job may not let you off,” she says. “Wash your hands, use sanitizer, and if you are sick stay home, don’t infect others. This is no joke, the flu doesn’t care who you are, how much money you make, it will get worse if you don’t get treated.”