Former Croatian football international Joe Šimunić and his wife Christina have spoken publicly for the first time about their family tragedy.
The couples’ 3-year-old daughter, Luciana, passed away earlier this year on Easter Sunday at the Zagreb Clinic for Infectious Diseases.
Speaking to daily Jutarnji list, Joe and Christina recall the days leading up to the passing of their daughter.
“It was Sunday. Luca was happily playing that afternoon. She was healthy, then in the evening, she had a temperature of 38°C. Nothing terrible, we were convinced. We lowered her temperature as we usually do and there were no signs that there were any bigger problems,” Christina starts to explain.
The next morning Luca had a high temperature again but was in a good mood, playful, eating normally and playing with her brother.
“But the temperature persevered, and on Tuesday night she woke up crying. We successfully lowered the fever and she slept safely on our bed. Still, in any case, though she was not coughing or did not have a runny nose, we went to the pediatrician. The pediatrician concluded that it should be the flu. We went home and she even normally had lunch and a sleep,” Christina recalls.
An hour later Luca would wake up again crying.
“We concluded straight away that something was not right. I did not like how she looked. We called the pediatrician again, he was working the afternoon shift. He just said ‘Go to infectious disease clinic’,” Joe said.
After being examined at the hospital, doctors decided on Wednesday that Luca should stay in for treatment.
“The findings revealed that our little girl had an encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, which at that moment the cause was not known. However, she was given all the possible antibiotic drugs, from corticosteroids to Tamiflu, and on Thursday we found out that that the H1N1 pandemic virus was isolated. At that moment I had a sigh of relief. The flu is not that such a terrible illness. People don’t die from the flu, I was comforted. But, everything then went downhill unbelievably fast.
On Friday she was shifted into intensive care, and on Saturday morning she started convulsing. Between Saturday and Sunday, she was left brain dead. She still lived for a week although she was brain dead, and she left us on Easter. In 7 days our world turned upside down. She was not coughing, did not have a runny nose. The flu bypassed the respiratory system and immediately went to the central nervous system, the doctors explained. No, that is not possible. It was just the flu,” said Christina, adding that they have been asking the question how it could happen almost every day since Luca passed away as she was always a healthy and happy child.
“We did not stop looking for explanations first from Dr. Goran Tešović because we could not figure out what happened. Maybe she had a problem with her immunity? But, no. Everything was according to standard. She was vaccinated with all the compulsory vaccines, plus even some extra ones. The only one we didn’t was the vaccine against the flu, and it turned out to be fatal,” Joe told Jutarnji list.
“If we knew enough about the dangers of the flu, we would certainly not skip this vaccination. True, we were never advised to get this vaccine, nor is it mandatory nor recommended for healthy children in Croatia. We’ve seen after that other rules apply in Canada, Australia and the United States. There it is recommended that children should be vaccinated after 6 months, as children up to the age of five are treated as a high-risk group. It could be said that we were uninformed because of the perception of the flu as a non-dangerous disease, which is certainly not true,” Christina says.
Christina says that doctors did all they could but in the end everyone was powerless.
“The doctor told us that unfortunately, you can not predict how anyone will react to the flu virus.”
“As a parent, I would not want anyone to experience this kind of tragedy, being powerless to help your own child. For the rest of our lives we will ask could we have done anything to avoid this tragedy,” Joe concludes. In 2015, encephalitis was estimated to have affected 4.3 million people and resulted in 150,000 deaths worldwide.