A case of flu caused serious problems for woman later on; vaccines can help prevent serious illness
photo by: Contributed
Living halfway around the world doesn’t keep you from getting the flu — just ask Sally Hare-Schriner. Nearly 30 years ago, she had a case of the flu that changed her life.
“We lived in Melbourne, Australia, from 1991 to 1995. I always made a point of getting the flu shot when I came back to Kansas for Christmas, only for the reason that I didn’t want to be inconvenienced if I got sick,” she said.
Because she didn’t get a flu vaccine during a normal Australian winter, Hare-Schriner was sick with the flu virus for two weeks in July 1995. Fast forward a few months to October, and we find her with the flu again, this time after moving from Australia to Dallas.
“I had a hard time that first year that my husband, Dan, and I were back in the States,” she said. “I continued to be sick off and on, lost 20 pounds and it was hard to climb stairs. I attributed it to coming back from overseas, having two small kids and a busy life, so I just kept going because I was young and couldn’t possibly be sick.”
As time went on, Hare-Schriner didn’t think much of having been ill — at least not until a few years later. When the family moved to Lawrence in June 2001, she applied for a life insurance policy and didn’t indicate having any pre-existing conditions. It was a shock when she received a rejection letter from the insurance company and was told to see a doctor as soon as possible.
“I thought, ‘What are they talking about?’ but I just went with it,” she said. “I was sent to Dr. Michael Zabel at Cardiovascular Specialists of Lawrence to figure out what the problem was.”
Zabel diagnosed Hare-Schriner with a left bundle branch block, a problem with the heart’s electrical system.
According to the American Heart Association, electrical impulses normally travel down the right and left bundle branches of the heart’s chambers, or ventricles, at the same speed. When there’s a block in the left branch, it causes the lower left chamber to contract a fraction of a second slower than the other, causing the heart to pump less efficiently.
She was young and otherwise healthy, so the cardiologist determined the block was caused by the flu. He put Hare-Schriner on a low dose of medication to regulate the condition and got it under control in 2003. She wasn’t completely back to normal, but Hare-Schriner’s health rebounded — so much so that she was able to complete a hike from Crested Butte to Vail, Colorado.
Things are fine … until they aren’t
Time marched on. Dan enjoyed his retirement as a partner for Accenture. Hare-Schriner got her master’s degree in early childhood special education, worked with students in the Unified Early Childhood Program at the University of Kansas and eventually retired. She continued to go to her cardiology appointments each year and nothing was out of the ordinary until a visit on March 9, 2023.
“I hadn’t been feeling very well and just hadn’t been listening to my body,” Hare-Schriner said. “That’s when Dr. Zabel broke the news that I was in heart failure.”
Yet again, that flu bug from 1995 reared its ugly head.
Zabel said that Hare-Schriner’s ejection fraction test showed that she was in progressive heart failure. Ejection fraction is a measurement of how much blood the left ventricle pumps out with each contraction. According to the American Heart Association, a normal heart’s ejection fraction is between 55% and 70%. Hare-Schriner’s heart was only pumping at 25%.
“We first used medications — Carvedilol and Lisinopril — to treat Hare-Schriner’s heart failure,” Zabel said. “These were beneficial but weren’t enough, so our next step was to move to a defibrillator implant.”
Surgery to place the defibrillator was scheduled for July, but Hare-Schriner’s heart couldn’t wait that long. After passing out in June and being rushed to LMH Health, she was transferred to Olathe Medical Center where she had a successful surgery.
Hare-Schriner feels great today. She doesn’t think her health will return to the level it was for the walk from Crested Butte to Vail, but it’s much better than it was a year ago. Hare-Schriner is determined to share her story with anyone who will listen to raise awareness of what can happen if you don’t get vaccinated against the flu.
“I now have this metal box in my chest and a monitor plugged in underneath my bed, all because I didn’t get a flu shot,” she said. “Having the shot won’t keep you from getting the flu, but it won’t be as severe and could keep things like this from happening to you.”
— Autumn Bishop is the marketing manager and content strategist at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Journal-World’s Health section.