A North Carolina teen was healthy and athletic. The flu killed her in days

Lacie Rian Fisher, 15, of Canton, North Carolina, died of septic shock associated with flu complications. (Photo: Courtesy of Keith Fisher.)

CANTON, N.C. — On the morning of Dec. 30, 15-year-old Lacie Rian Fisher grudgingly conceded she wouldn’t be able to cheer at her high school football game that evening. 

She’d been feeling achy and hadn’t had much of an appetite for the past couple days, but she had hoped to rally in time for the game. Her dad knew she’d been exposed to the flu over the holidays, but he figured Lacie just had a garden-variety winter bug, given her only symptoms were the body ache and clammy skin.

She retreated to her room for a weekend of bed rest and apple juice.

When she hadn’t improved by 9 a.m., Monday morning, Lacie threw on some clothes and climbed into her dad Keith’s truck for the quarter-mile drive to her pediatrician down the road. It was less than 72 hours after Lacie felt the first symptoms. 

But when Lacie stepped out of the truck, “she just kind of screamed out a couple times,” Fisher remembers. She crumpled to the ground, and “just went limp in my arms.” Lacie would never regain consciousness. 

By 4:45 p.m., Lacie Rian Fisher — athletic cheerleader, straight-A student and beloved friend — was gone. 

Flu virus kills thousands each year

Every year, some 12,000-60,000 deaths in the United States are associated with the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overwhelmingly, flu victims fit the traditional profile of a vulnerable patient — the very young and the very old, pregnant women, people with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems.

But that can lead to a false sense of security for the young and able-bodied. People like Lacie, active and fit with no known pre-existing health conditions, are also susceptible to serious flu complications. 

On her death certificate, Lacie’s immediate cause of death is listed as septic shock — a severe form of sepsis — with Influenza B as an underlying cause of death. 

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When fighting any infection, the body releases a slurry of chemicals into the blood stream. “Sepsis occurs when the body’s response to these chemicals is out of balance, triggering changes that can damage multiple organ systems,” according to the Mayo Clinic website.  

“Anyone can get an infection and almost any infection can lead to sepsis,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Both bacteria and viruses can trigger sepsis, so everything from a urinary tract infection to respiratory infections like pneumonia can be life threatening if left untreated. 

Sepsis can set in extremely quickly, and the symptoms  — high heart rate, extreme pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, confusion, clammy or sweaty skin, fever, shivering or feeling very cold — are easy to mistake for milder illnesses.

“Her levels were all over the place,” Lacie’s mom Rosalind Fisher Payne said. “It was affecting her heart, her liver…every part of her body, every organ.”

Sepsis requires emergency treatment, typically in the form of an aggressive course of antibiotics and intravenous fluids.

“As sepsis worsens, blood flow to vital organs, such as your brain, heart and kidneys, becomes impaired,” the Mayo Clinic’s sepsis guide says. “Sepsis can also cause blood clots to form in your organs and in your arms, legs, fingers and toes — leading to varying degrees of organ failure and tissue death.”

Septic shock is fatal to about 40% of patients, according to the CDC. 

She didn’t get a flu shot

Both of Lacie’s parents are strong believers in flu shots, but as happens for so many families, it got lost in the fall shuffle this year. 

Lacie saw her primary care provider twice in November — Fisher said he asked about a flu shot during those visits, but they decided to hold off due to a rash Lacie had on part of her body. 

Influenza germs can spread through the air when infected people cost.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Photo: CONTRIBUTED BY CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION)

“I just didn’t get her back to get a shot in December after she got better,” Fisher said. 

This year’s vaccine was a “poor match” for Influenza B/Victoria, director Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN. “It’s not an awful match, but it’s not a very good match.”

Preliminary CDC data indicate the vaccine is effective against 58% of Influenza B/Victoria strains — it won’t prevent the other 42% entirely, but it could help stop life-threatening complications. 

The 2019-2020 flu vaccine has higher match rates with other strains of the virus, and public officials say it’s still far and away the best way to protect yourself — and people around you who may not even know they’re vulnerable.

“I wished I would have gotten it for her,” Fisher said.

“If there’s just some way that I can get people to realize because of Lacie — get that shot,” Payne said. “People just don’t understand how bad it is. No, it’s not just a cold, or a not-feel-good for a couple of days. I mean, this happened in hours.” 

They hope to channel their grief into positive change and tell Lacie’s story to urge people to get flu shots in her honor.

Friends and family say they'll always picture Lacie with a smile on her face. (Photo: Courtesy of Rosalind Fisher Payne)

Remembering Lacie 

“She wanted to be the best at everything,” Fisher said. “She had a real drive, whether it was cheerleading or band or her grades in school.” 

“Lacie has always had straight A’s and she has come in here more than one time in tears and (told) me that she’s basically failed and just had me scared to death,” he said with a laugh. “And I find out that she’d had a 97 instead of a 98.” 

“And she said no, I could have done better, I could have done better,” he said. 

Her father remembers Lacie as a “big hugger.”  Even walking around the house some days, “we had to have hug time four or five times before I could get where I was going,” he said. “She just wanted to love on you.” 

Her Pisgah High community has overwhelmed the family with love and support in the past several weeks, Fisher said. “I don’t know how many hundreds of calls…and it’s just been unbelievable the way they took us in and took care of us.” 

“I knew she was a special girl but it certainly has blown me away that she was special to so many people in such a short lifetime,” Fisher said. 

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