Mother of 3-year-old killed by flu shares story, advocates for vaccine

Caylee Donovan's three-year-old daughter died as a result of the flu. Now, she's sharing her daughter's story with others to help them make the right choices for their families.

'We were kind of that family that said this will never happen to us,' Caylee Donovan says

Caylee Donovan is speaking out about the flu and flu vaccines, 10 years after her three-year-old daughter, pictured, died from the flu. (Submitted by Caylee Donovan)

When Caylee Donovan took her three-year-old daughter Gracie to the hospital, worried her fever had lasted for five days, she was sent home.

"They just said keep her hydrated, keep trying to feed her and wait for the fever to break," she said. "Basically they just ignored us."

Weeks later, Gracie died.

It's been 10 years since Donovan lost her daughter, but she wants to make her family's story public so she can advocate for flu vaccines.

Gracie Donovan was just three years old when she died as a result of the flu virus. (Caylee Donovan)

Gracie was diagnosed with influenza after her mother took her back to the doctor repeatedly trying to get help. She was sent to the hospital in Nanaimo, where her family was living at the time, so she could be assessed by pediatricians.

One doctor told Donovan her child didn't have the flu. She was just an angry child. But Donovan said it was because of the fever that she was acting unusually.

When another doctor decided to treat Gracie for the flu, she was relieved. But a couple of days later, Gracie's condition worsened, and she was taken to a hospital in Victoria. It's there that Donovan first learned her daughter might not make it.

"She was put on a ventilator that night and remained on it for 18 days," Donovan said. "She fought it. They had 14 different medications in her little body."

An abscess formed on Gracie's lung, and between that and the other symptoms she was suffering from, she succumbed to the virus.

"It was hard on us, the family," Donovan said.

"But she's no longer suffering, and, now, I use her story and our family's experience to advocate for having the flu vaccination."

'Things get misconstrued on the Internet'

Donovan wants other parents and people to understand the impact not vaccinating themselves or their children can have. Though her family had been vaccinated for influenza in years prior, they had not yet had the flu shot in 2009 when Gracie fell ill.

"Our family never really got sick. We were kind of that family that said this will never happen to us."

She notices people asking for advice on Facebook and other social media forums and said her biggest piece of advice for others is to get their information about influenza and the flu shot from medical professionals, as opposed to the Internet.

"A lot of things get misconstrued on the Internet," she said.

"It takes one person to say 'there's mercury in a vaccination.' Society, these days, believes those stories and they take it to heart, and, then, they make decisions for their family that might not be in the best interests of their family."

She hopes that by sharing her daughter's story, people will take the virus more seriously.

"I would just like to see people educate themselves legitimately going to their health professionals, going to people who know the truth and can help you make the right decision for you. It may be to get a vaccine and it may be to not get the vaccine."

With files from Audrey Mckinnon