Just two days after showing signs of influenza, a mother of two from Oregon died of complications from the infection that has killed many across the country this flu season.
When Tandy Harmon began feeling ill on January 17, she visited the hospital near her home in Gresham, Oregon, and was diagnosed with influenza, according to KGW8. Physicians recommended that the 36-year-old get rest and stay hydrated, so Harmon returned home to follow their advice. But within hours, Harmon’s boyfriend, Steven Lundin, had to rush her back to the hospital when her health had dramatically declined.
At the hospital, doctors placed Harmon on a breathing tube with the hopes of stabilizing her, but she continued to worsen. By nightfall, the mother of two was on life support. Doctors told the family that Harmon had developed pneumonia and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an aggressive staph infection.
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“The doctors told us that she had the flu and then the flu opened up the gates for MRSA to set in and she had walking pneumonia,” Lundin told KGW8. “They said that’s like a worst-case scenario that doesn’t often happen.”
The bacterium is commonly known as “staph,” and is found on the skin or in the nose of healthy people, according to the Centers For Disease Control. It can cause infections in different parts of the body, such as mild skin infections like boils or sores, but can become more serious when it enters the bloodstream, lungs or urinary tract. While it can usually be treated with antibiotics, some strains of staph, such as MRSA, have become resistant. When the flu and MRSA combine, they can quickly become lethal.
A 2016 Rockefeller University Press study explains that the flu virus changes the antibacterial response of white blood cells, and instead of targeting the staph bacteria, they cause inflammatory injury to the lungs and damage to surrounding tissue. This causes a higher vulnerability to secondary bacterial infections such as MRSA pneumonia.
By Friday, January 19, Harmon’s two children—her 12-year old son and 11-year old daughter—had joined friends and family by their mother’s bedside to say goodbye before she passed away later that day.
It isn’t clear if Harmon received a flu vaccination this season. The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) reports that the shot does lessen the chance that someone catches the virus by 10 to 60 percent, though it doesn’t guarantee that someone will not catch the flu.
“She was my woman and a great mother of two for those that didn’t know her,” Lundin wrote in a Facebook post on January 22. “I am at a loss of words about how we are dealing with this.”
The family has set up a GoFundMe page to help with Harmon’s funeral costs, and has so far raised more than $7,000.
“I loved Tandy,” Lundin told KGW8. “I loved being with her.”