Kimi Young's family is left with an inexplicable hole since the 22-year-old's unexpected death in September. And in the midst of dealing with their daughter's death, Bryan and Cathy Young, of Wayne, are also battling frustration with health officials over Kimi's cause of death.
The family had been told that Kimi, a recent grad from Miami University in Oxford, had H1N1 that developed into viral pneumonia. The illness caused her body to shut down and she was taken off life support on Sept. 23 in a Cincinnati hospital. (Photo: Maxine Miller (left) and Kathy Young with a portrait of Kathy's daughter, who died recently due to H1N1. (Photo: Aaron Carpenter/Sentinel-Tribune))
But since her death, her parents have been told by health officials that Kimi died of pneumonia, not H1N1. That makes no sense to her parents, who believe people need to realize the risks of the H1N1 flu.
"Kimi would not have had the pneumonia without having H1N1 first," her mother said.
Though privacy laws are keeping medical professionals from discussing Kimi specifically, they can speak in generalities.
"If you ask any medical professional they will agree that Kimi would not have contracted the viral pneumonia if she did not have the flu first," Cathy Young said.
According to Young, a Miami freshman died from H1N1 three days after Kimi. His family inquired why the Centers for Disease Control was denying that H1N1 flu caused their son's death.
A spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control said it is not uncommon for flu deaths to be reported as something other than flu, such as respiratory failure or pneumonia.
In Kimi's case, her mom was appointed administrator of Kimi's estate, so she could get access to her medical records. Young met with the doctor who treated Kimi, and was told the nasal swab test showed her daughter had Type A influenza. He explained that 99 percent of Type A influenza cases are H1N1.
Since Kimi's death, two of her roommates have been classified as having H1N1.
"She did have it," Cathy Young stressed about Kimi.
And as a parent, Young is frustrated by the CDC and health officials who have told her "it doesn't matter."
In Kimi's case, the illness first sent her to an Oxford emergency room, where she was treated and released. A few days later, her symptoms worsened, and she was having difficulty breathing. She went back to the hospital and was then flown to a Cincinnati area hospital. It was discovered that both lungs were fully involved with viral pneumonia, and Kimi's condition declined quickly.
"The doctors were amazed by that," Young said of the rapid progression of the illness. "There was nothing different they could have done. The doctors and nurses were great with her at both hospitals."
But while Young credits the hospitals for their responses, she is frustrated by the unwillingness of the CDC to say that Kimi's death was caused by H1N1.
"They are trying to cover that fact," Young said. "Let's be honest," if it weren't for H1N1, neither Kimi nor the Miami freshman would have died, she said. "They were both healthy kids."
But the fact of the matter is that most people are not automatically tested for H1N1 if they come in to a hospital with flu symptoms. Earlier this spring, before the flu was so widespread, people who tested positive for Influenza A with nasal swabs were given another test to definitively rule if they had H1N1, explained Pat Snyder, public information officer with the Wood County Health Department.
However, now that H1N1 is so common, in most cases people get the second test only if they are hospitalized. That test helps the medical community determine if the virus is mutating into a more severe disease, Snyder said.
"We know over 90 percent of people who test positive for Influenza A have H1N1," she said.
Snyder explained that patients get the same care regardless of the type of flu.
"We treat it the same way," she said.
People can pay for the second test to rule definitively if an illness is caused by H1N1, but the cost is about $300 through a private lab, Snyder added.
And while there are some concerns that the lack of testing allows some places, such as universities to state that they have no confirmed H1N1 cases, Snyder said the reason isn't to hide the spread of the flu. The reason is simply the usefulness of the expensive tests, which already have a backlog averaging 10 days.
"It has nothing to do with hiding it," Snyder said. "It has everything to do with not clogging up the labs."
Meanwhile, Kimi's family is struggling with their loss, and worrying about others the illness may claim.
Kimi, who graduated last December with a double major of international studies and art, and a double minor of French and Spanish, had a goal of helping others.
"She wanted to work with mothers and children of the Third World," said her grandmother, Maxine Miller of Bowling Green. "We'll never know what she would have actually done. We'll never know about Kimi."
But the family is comforted in knowing that in her short life she touched many others.
"The church had standing room only," her mother said of Kimi's funeral. In fact, 85 friends from Oxford drove up and stayed at the church parsonage for her funeral. A couple who had met Kimi on a mission trip, flew up from Mexico City.
"Kimi just portrayed love. She was very outgoing, very fun," her mother said. "She had tons of friends. Her thing was to show the love of Jesus to everyone she met."