Dr. Cesar Termulo, a dedicated pediatrician, has experienced a profound tragedy that serves as a stark reminder of the dangers posed by the flu. His vibrant 16-year-old daughter, Teresa “Reese” Termulo, who was in excellent health with no chronic illnesses, tragically lost her life to the flu in early January 2020. Dr. Termulo, who practices at Parkland Health in Dallas, Texas, shares his poignant story in an effort to raise awareness about the seriousness of the flu and the critical importance of vaccination.
Reese’s journey with the flu began with what appeared to be a typical case. She developed a fever and a cough at school, prompting her parents to bring her to Dr. Termulo’s office for evaluation. The diagnosis was swift: Reese tested positive for the flu, and she was promptly started on oseltamivir (Tamiflu), an antiviral medication commonly used to treat the flu.
Despite her illness, Reese remained engaged in her teenage activities, including schoolwork, socializing with friends, and using social media. Her symptoms seemed manageable, and there were no indications of a dire outcome.
However, the situation took a devastating turn on the morning of the following day. Reese complained of chest pain, a common symptom associated with vigorous coughing. Concerned about the potential for complications, Dr. Termulo examined her lungs carefully, but there were no signs of pneumonia or other concerning respiratory issues.
Reese spent the day at home with her mother, engaging in prayers and family moments. Tragically, as her mother went to prepare some soup, Reese suddenly stopped breathing.
Efforts to resuscitate Reese were made, and emergency services were called, but her heart had already stopped. In the emergency room, despite Dr. Termulo’s medical background, the outcome was grim, and Reese was pronounced dead.
An autopsy later revealed that Reese had succumbed to the flu and superimposed strep A pneumonia. Although a strep test conducted the day before had been negative, group A strep had spread into her bloodstream and even reached her brain. This resulted in pneumonia-induced sepsis, which overwhelmed her system and led to cardiac arrest.
Dr. Termulo underscores the misconception that the flu is merely a mild illness characterized by a runny nose or a cough. In reality, the flu can cause severe complications, including pneumonia, febrile seizures in children, asthma attacks, encephalopathy, and even death.
Reese had received the flu vaccine in December 2019, but that year’s vaccine did not cover the specific strain of flu that proved fatal. Despite this heartbreaking loss, Dr. Termulo continues to advocate for flu vaccination, emphasizing its potential to reduce the risk of severe complications, even though it is not 100% effective.
He likens getting a flu shot to wearing a seatbelt while driving at high speeds—it may not guarantee safety, but it significantly improves the odds of survival. Dr. Termulo also stresses the importance of early flu testing and prompt initiation of antiviral treatment, such as Tamiflu, within the first two days of symptoms.
As a physician who did everything in his power to protect his daughter, Dr. Termulo grapples with the realization that some aspects of life are beyond our control. He urges everyone to cherish every moment, recognizing the fragility of life and the importance of proactive measures to safeguard health during flu season.