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The Flu Can Be Deadly — Don’t Find Out the Hard Way

Blake Crane smiling on a boat
Blake Crane smiling on a boat
Photo courtesy of the Crane family.

Blake’s parents didn’t know that people could die from the flu until their 16-year-old son tragically passed away.

Blake Anthony Crane was a healthy 16-year-old who loved baseball, fishing, playing on his Xbox, reading, and his family. On February 14, 2020, Blake returned from school not feeling well. The flu was spreading in his community, but his grandparents had gifted him with a snowboarding weekend getaway. Although he was tired, he still wanted to go on the family trip. He slept the entire five-hour ride to the resort.

When Blake woke up the next morning, his plan to hit the slopes was put on pause due to a severe sore throat. At a visit to the nearby ER, he tested negative for strep throat and was told he had a virus. By that night, he had developed a cough and complained of upper back pain. His parents, Tony and Becky, thought he was describing a pinched nerve or muscle strain. Blake woke up a couple of times in the middle of the night saying that he couldn’t breathe, but his family assumed his breathlessness was because of his back issue.

A terrifying turn for the worse

The following day, his family decided to head home earlier than planned because Blake was too sick to enjoy snowboarding. After returning home, he went to his room to sleep. A couple of hours later, he started throwing up blood and his parents rushed him to the local hospital. Blake was very weak but walked himself downstairs, into the car, and into the emergency room with his parents at his side.

Once underneath the fluorescent lighting of the hospital, it became obvious that he was extremely pale and his lips were blue. During the intake process, the nurse asked his pain level and Blake replied that it was a 7 out of 10. She was struggling to get a read on his oxygen levels from the finger monitor and announced that he was in respiratory distress. While wheeling him down the hall, the nurse shared that she feared he had a collapsed lung from coughing. His parents were shocked at this possibility as the only complication from viruses that they knew of was pneumonia. Chest X-rays indicated that his lungs were full of blood, but the doctors couldn’t explain why.

A parent’s worst nightmare

At this point, the doctor announced that they planned to fly Blake to a bigger children’s hospital four hours away and that he was very, very sick. The team tried to get Blake’s oxygen levels up through oxygen masks, but it wasn’t helping, so his parents gave permission for them to intubate him. His parents felt relief when the anaesthetic kicked in and his pain was gone but didn’t realize what a serious step the intubation was.

Blood tests came back showing that Blake tested positive for influenza B and that he was in multisystem organ failure. The doctor in charge was clear that his prognosis wasn’t good, but that they were doing everything they could. As the flight team from the children’s hospital arrived, Blake took a turn for the worse. He went into cardiac arrest multiple times and died at 2:00 a.m. on February 17, 2020, with his mom whispering in one ear and his dad in the other. Blake’s official cause of death was cardiac arrest caused by septic shock due to influenza B.

The importance of spreading awareness  

While Blake had typically received an annual flu vaccine, his routine had changed that year. Unfortunately, getting vaccinated slipped through the cracks and other daily demands took priority. Tony and Becky hope that sharing his story will help other parents recognize the warning signs of serious complications from influenza. They now know that annual flu vaccination not only helps to avoid the inconvenience of getting the flu but can also save lives. In memory of Blake, his family works with his high school’s health centre to distribute no-cost flu vaccines to students and to raise awareness about the flu.

Annual flu vaccination helps protect you, your family, and your community. And flu vaccination is more important than ever during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Pledge to get vaccinated in honour of Blake or someone else you love by making the Families Fighting Flu Vaccination Promise.

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