Kathy A. Bolten, firstname.lastname@example.org:09 p.m. CST January 6, 2015
The radio in Amber Gray's bedroom continues to play the teenager's favorite station, Life 107.1 — even though she's not there to hear it.
For now, it's too difficult for Amber's parents, Lisa and Rex Gray, to turn the music off.
Amber, 14, died Dec. 28 at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines from complications from the flu.
The girl, who loved to draw and make YouTube videos, is one of three Iowa children who have died from influenza complications since the flu season began in October, according to preliminary data from the Iowa Department of Public Health.
On Dec. 29, 3-year-old Ayzlee McCarthy of Elk Horn died from complications of the flu,just three days after she fell ill and was taken to Blank Children's Hospital in Des Moines. The third child who died from flu complications has not been identified
Iowa has been particularly hard-hit by the flu this year, and nationally, it's so widespread that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have declared the outbreak an epidemic.
Both Amber and Ayzlee were healthy and had flu shots, yet the virulent nature of the virus weakened them so severely that secondary complications made it impossible for them to survive.
The girls' unexpected deaths have triggered fears among parents, who see a common illness becoming deadly.
Amber's symptoms "kept getting progressively worse," said her father, Rex Gray.
Amber's family went out to dinner Dec. 22 to celebrate her mother's birthday.
Amber complained of a sore throat and only ate ice cream, said Rex Gray, whose family lives in Redfield.
After dinner, the family took Amber to a clinic, where she tested positive for influenza A, a strain that this year's flu vaccines is not effective in treating.
Doctors at the clinic told Amber's parents to keep her hydrated and give her fever-reducing medication.
The next morning, Amber woke with labored breathing and a temperature. Her family took her the doctor's office, where her oxygen levels were 70 percent.
The girl was taken by ambulance to Mercy, and for the next five days, she fought a bacterial infection, pneumonia and the flu virus, which had mutated into a different strain, her father said.
"The doctors told us her chances of survival were slim. Then, boom, she was gone. … We went into this whole thing thinking she just had a cold," he said.
Amber's funeral was Saturday at McCalley Funeral Home in Adel; she was buried in Harper Cemetery near Redfield.
It was a jarring beginning to the new year.
"She was perfectly healthy beforehand," said Verla Kellar of Booneville, Amber's grandmother. "There were no underlying diseases. Nothing."
Before she got a flu shot in the fall, Amber spent part of the summer with her 10-year-old brother Aidan, traveling in the western United States with their grandparents, Kellar said.
Amber and Aidan got to see the Pacific Ocean, the Grand Canyon, Pike's Peak and parts of Utah. Amber took photos of the sites and did some drawings, her father said.
During her life, "she was in every state west of the Mississippi," Rex Gray said.
After she got sick, Kellar said she spent hours at the hospital with Amber, who was on a ventilator and in a medically-induced coma.
The teen wanted an iPhone for Christmas, which Kellar got her.
On Christmas Day, Kellar said she whispered to Amber that when she got better, she'd get to open her new phone.
"Her right eye flickered," Kellar said. "Amber got the best Christmas present — she got to go home with Jesus."
When the family learned Amber would likely die, they got word to their friends and church family in Redfield.
Between 30 and 50 people were in the hospital's waiting room when the teen died.
"She fought hard. … She just wore out," Kellar said. "I'm expecting beautiful rainbows this summer, if they let Amber draw them."