Like many people his age, Jerry Lucier, 54, of Northville, never got the flu shot.
Then, in April, he almost died as a result of an H1N1 flu infection and was transferred by medical helicopter to the ECMO unit at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak.
ECMO stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. H1N1 is a flu strain especially aggressive in individuals aged 25 to 64.
“I didn’t used to believe in the flu shot,” said Lucier, who has no underlying medical issues.
Lucier’s condition deteriorated rapidly when his flu turned into pneumonia, filling his lungs with fluid, making it nearly impossible for him to breathe.
Not even a ventilator could save him.
“Now, I tell everybody: ‘You’ve got to get the vaccine’,” said Lucier, who spent four months in the hospital. “’Otherwise, you might die.’”
For Lucier, early transfer to a hospital that provided ECMO, was key.
Beaumont, Royal Oak is one of three Extracorporeal Life Support Organization hospitals in Michigan providing ECMO to adult patients. This technology helps patients unable to breathe on their own take in oxygen.
“People die every year from the flu. And while the groups most likely to be affected are the very young and the very old, there’s a bit of randomness in how and who it strikes,” said Felicia Ivascu, M.D, medical director of the ECMO program at Beaumont, Royal Oak said. “That’s what makes the flu so scary.”
Getting an annual flu vaccine is still the first and best way people age 6 months and older, can prevent getting the flu in the first place.
“Even if you don’t think you need the protection the vaccine offers,” Dr. Ivascu said. “It’s important to protect those around you. Especially if they include vulnerable populations.”
For optimum results, vaccinations should be administered just before cases start appearing, which is in October or November, explained Dr. Matthew Sims, director of Infectious Disease Research for Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak.
“A few cases of the flu have already been reported, so it’s good timing to get the vaccine right now,” Dr. Sims said. “If you get it too early in the year, August for example, you might not be protected the entire season.”
As long as new cases continue to flare, it’s not too late to get the vaccine, Dr. Sims said, adding the flu season usually peaks in February and lasts until May.
“Just remember, it takes about two weeks from when you get the shot to be protected by it,” Dr. Sims said. “And some years we run out.”
Now, six months after diagnosis, Lucier is still working hard to get back to his old self.
He’s lost 58 pounds, uses oxygen parts of each day and recently registered for another round of physical and occupational therapy to regain strength and stamina.
If things go as planned, Lucier will finally return to his job as an electrician for Ford Motor Co. in April 2017.
“I’m feeling better every day,” said Lucier, who looks forward to going back to work and the gym and spending time out with his wife, Minwa, their family and friends.
“And yes, I’ve already received my seasonal flu shot. I hope everybody gets one.”
• For the 2016/2017 flu season, only injectable flu shots are recommended.
• You cannot get the flu from the vaccine.
• If you get the vaccine and still catch the flu, it wasn’t all for naught. Experts say you likely would have been sicker, longer without the vaccine’s protection.
• Because flu strains are constantly changing, previous vaccinations won’t protect you against a new season of flu bugs.
• Egg-free vaccinations are available for those who may be allergic.
Visit http://www.beaumont.org/services/doctors to make a flu shot appointment with a Beaumont primary care physician near you.