Healthy Father Hospitalized And Experiencing Lifelong Medical Complications From Flu

At 40 years old, Nick Fulweiler was a healthy, active father who liked to fish, hunt, go four wheeling, and spend time with his family. In late January 2019, he began to feel ill with various symptoms including fever, chest congestion, labored breathing, muscle aches, chills, and an upset stomach. Nick’s symptoms continued to persist for about a week when finally on January 31, 2019, he went to a local urgent care where they informed him that he likely had influenza and bronchitis. The physician did not prescribe antivirals to treat Nick’s influenza because it was past the 48 hour window when antivirals are most effective. The physician prescribed prednisone and advised him to rest, drink fluids, and to come back if symptoms became worse.

The next day, February 1, Nick collapsed at home and his 14-year-old son called an ambulance. Nick regained consciousness just before the ambulance arrived and he was taken to a hospital. More x-rays indicated that Nick actually had pneumonia, which led the doctors to admit him and start him on an IV and medications. The next morning, Nick’s breathing became much more labored, requiring him to use oxygen and he was transferred to the intensive care unit (ICU). Within hours, Nick became extremely critical and was placed on a respirator. His wife, Tori, and their two sons were informed by the doctors that Nick might not survive. As a result of his deteriorating condition, Nick was again transferred, by ambulance, to a Level 1 trauma center.

Nick was placed in a medically induced coma for three weeks, which included being on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine for 8 days. During his hospital stay, it was determined that Nick had influenza A, which led to severe pneumonia, severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and sepsis. For 25 excruciating days, his family did not know if Nick would survive. Tori recalls the pain and anxiety they experienced as they witnessed Nick fighting for his life.

Nick does not recall anything from his horrific experience (other than two recurring dreams) after that first ambulance ride from his home to the hospital. Nick was hospitalized for a total of 28 days and had to attend rehabilitation to relearn his basic life skills. He couldn’t walk without assistance and required help to eat and bathe when he came home. Nick finally graduated physical therapy two months following his illness. As a result of his illness, he still deals with some lasting medical conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, vision problems, and hair loss, and he is easily fatigued.

Nick had not been vaccinated against the flu because he and his family never realized how serious the flu could be. Nick and his wife, Tori, believe strongly now that there needs to be much more awareness about the potential devastating effects of influenza. They have vowed to get their annual flu vaccines each and every year, and share their story in hopes that they can help prevent others from experiencing what they have. Nick’s family wants others to know that flu poses a risk to everyone, including healthy adults.

Nick Fulweiler
Pine City, MN