A mother whose four-year-old son died after contracting the flu is urging others to get vaccinated.
In December 2017, Laura Sidari’s son, Leon, became ill with what the military physician thought was simply a cold. With only two days to go before Christmas, Sidari gave her son some chicken noodle soup as he watched cartoons from the family’s couch, fighting a fever and some body aches.
The next morning, Leon was taken to the hospital after he woke up with a “barky” cough and was having trouble breathing. Upon arrival, doctors admitted Leon to the ICU where he was diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia and the flu.
As her son’s condition worsened, Sidari feared for the worst.
“In the hospital, there came a moment when my brain knew that my son was dying, but my heart simply did not,” Sidari told PEOPLE magazine. “In medical training, I can remember similar moments in the critical care setting, where death approached like a train hurtling towards its final destination. However, as a mother, nothing can prepare you for watching your child die.”
Leon died on Christmas Day, less than 48 hours after his symptoms appeared.
“In the end, there was simply shock, horror, helplessness and unbearable pain,” the 32-year-old mother said. “I remember my final moments with him, crying in his blonde hair and kissing him goodbye.”
Sidari said that her son was set to receive flu vaccination within the next few weeks. Now, she’s on a mission to encourage parents to ensure their children receive the flu shot which will hopefully, prevent another tragedy.
“Last year, if I had seen a story like my own, I would have prioritized the flu shot differently. As a physician, even I was unaware of the significant risk that the flu posed to my healthy child. Through reaching out to others, including other physician parents, I have discovered that I am not alone in that misconception.”
Earlier this month, Sidari shared photos to Facebook of her husband and two sons getting their vaccinations in memory of Leon with the hashtag #FluShotsForLeon.
According to the Center for Disease Control, the flu causes up to to 35 million illnesses each year in the United States alone. The CDC reports that approximately 56,000 people died as a result of complications from the flu in the 2012-2013 flu season. The flu vaccine can reduce a person’s chances of contracting the flu by up to 60 per cent.
Sidari’s Facebook post was shared more than 21,000 times, with people sharing photos of themselves receiving vaccines.
“Leon shaped me into a mother. He transformed my husband and me from a couple into a family,” Sidari says. “When we care for our children as parents, we give them pieces of ourselves that cannot be returned. In losing Leon, I have lost part of myself. He has touched every fiber of my being and is never far from my heart.”