A health and fitness trainer from Texas tragically died after showing symptoms of the influenza virus last month.
Jeremy Westerman loved to stay healthy and exercise, and was always passionate about helping others as a personal trainer near his home in Collin County, Texas. But on New Year’s Eve, the 27-year-old started to feel ill and woke up the next morning with a high fever and congestion. Despite feeling unwell, Westerman refused to see a doctor, and a day later on January 2, his family received horrifying news.
“He thought he could take over the counter medicine and sleep it off,” Diana Westerman tells PEOPLE. “His roommate thought he was sleeping, but [he] had actually passed away.”
According to Fox 4, an autopsy report released by the medical examiner this week revealed Westerman’s cause of death was brought on by the influenza type A virus.
“As a parent, that’s a major shock,” Marty Westerman told CBS Dallas-Fortworth. “This is something we did not expect.”
He also had an adrenal insufficiency that likely made him more vulnerable to the infection, the station reported.
“This has been so difficult for us,” Diana Westerman tells PEOPLE. “He was a special guy and loved by so many.”
The Centers For Disease Control estimates more than 14,000 Americans were hospitalized with the flu virus since October. A report released by the government on Friday said this season’s flu epidemic has become just as bad as the 2009 swine flu outbreak, and is expected to worsen.
This season, the predominant strain is H3N2, which causes the worst outbreaks of the two influenza A viruses and two types of influenza B viruses.
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The CDC recommends the flu vaccination, which can 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). They also recommend washing your hands throughout the day, contacting your medical provider and not going to work or school if you feel symptoms, getting adequate rest and staying hydrated.
According to an online obituary, Westerman was a graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas with a degree in business before becoming a fitness manager at the 24 Hour Fitness in Mesquite.
“He was in such good health,” Marty told CBS. “He was a trainer. He worked out all the time. And for it to take him like it did, it’s absolutely terrifying.”
One of his defining physical features, other than his fitness, was the “Trust Your Struggle” tattoo across his chest. It is a reference to the Bible passage Romans 5:3-5.
“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame,” the passage reads, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Diana Westerman wants other families to remain cautious going forward during this flu season.
“I just want people to know they cannot self-treat and cannot sleep it off,” she says. “This flu is nothing to mess around with.”