There are frightening signs that the flu has arrived in Michiana.
In St. Joseph County alone, the flu is suspected of playing a role in the recent deaths of four residents. The oldest was age 39. The youngest was age 25.
“That’s relatively extraordinary,” said Thomas Felger, M.D., St. Joseph County Health Officer. “So, hopefully people will be out yet today getting their flu shots.”
The one thing all of the victims had in common—none had received a flu shot.
“We know that he was sick, we know it was a flu that went into pneumonia,” said Jesusa Rivera about the death of her brother in law, Bobby Ray Gonzales.
The 38 year old South Bend father of three started feeling sick last weekend, but since he had no health insurance, he put off going to the hospital until his mother made him on Monday.
Gonzales was immediately admitted to the Intensive Care Unit.
“He wasn’t in a weakened state, he was a strong man, he was a little overweight but he was strong and you know my sister and him planned to grow old together,” said Rivera.
It was early on Wednesday morning—New Year’s Day—that the family learned Gonzales had died while being transferred to a hospital in Indianapolis.
New Year’s Day was also marred by the death of Jamie Corban of South Bend
A family member tells NewsCenter 16 that hospital personnel said the death was believed to be flu related, although testing will be done.
Corban was a 1997 graduate of Clay High School who first felt ill on Christmas Eve.
That same Christmas Eve, South Bend resident Anne Dwan died at a hospital in Chicago. At age 25, she was the youngest of the suspected flu victims.
“We all felt like we were sucker punched. We wasn't expecting it, we was expecting her to get better,” said Ann’s stepfather William Junge. “We figured it would take a couple months. We was going to postpone Christmas until she came home.”
Health Officer Thomas Felger, said the deaths were “all preventable,” and that people who have yet to get a flu shot should do so immediately.
NewsCenter 16 spoke with relatives of three of the four victims and all come out very strongly in support of flu shots.
“Find out where the next place where you can actually be checked up, and if it’s a money issue, I know there are some places out there that can help,” said Rivera.
The unexpected deaths of Gonzales and Dwan caught relatives off guard and unable to pay for funeral expenses.
For Anne Dwan, Bubb Funeral Chapel in Mishawaka is handling any public donations from those who want to help. For the Gonzales family, the Cobb Funeral Home in South Bend will do the same.
While Health Officer Thomas Felger wasn’t specific about numbers, he did say the hospitals were “quite full” with influenza patients, and it was obvious that this was the week that the flu arrived in South Bend.
Felger described a fourth suspected flu death as involving a 39 year old county resident.