One year after a New Jersey family lost their 6-year-old daughter to the influenza virus, they opened up to the I-Team about their mission to spread awareness and educate other parents on early warning signs.
On Feb. 9 last year, Stephanie Conteron picked up her daughter Nevaeh - whose name spells Heaven backwards - from kindergarten. Nevaeh felt warm, so Conteron gave her medicine, but when that didn’t help she took Nevaeh to a New Jersey hospital.
With a temperature of 104, Nevaeh was given Motrin and tested for both the flu and strep throat. When the results came back negative, Conteron said the hospital discharged Nevaeh and sent her home.
The following morning Nevaeh’s temperature steadily increased. When Nevaeh couldn’t hold down any medication, her mother immediately dialed 911. This time, Nevaeh went to Hackensack Hospital, which specializes in pediatrics. “I was nervous [and] scared,” Conteron said.
By the time Nevaeh arrived to the ER, her fever had climbed to 106. The hospital gave her medicine, along with an IV and oxygen. Within an hour Nevaeh was given strep and flu tests. This time, the results came back positive for the influenza virus. Nevaeh was rushed to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where her mother observed doctors and nurses perform different tests and scans on her daughter; two days later, Nevaeh’s brain and heart were losing function and getting weaker.
When Nevaeh went into cardiac arrest, Conteron watched as nurses and doctors tried to revive her daughter. “I wanted her to go in peace. I didn’t want to see her like that. For those three days in the hospital, she wasn’t moving, I knew she wasn’t there anymore,” said Conteron. “So I asked them to stop.”
Nevaeh’s father, Gabriel Hernandez, had been stationed in Germany. “As soon as it happened they bought me a plane right back home,” said Hernandez. “But by the time I got there, she was already gone.”
Nevaeh’s parents have worked to spread a message to other families. “I just want people to be aware. Get educated. Use preventative measures,” Conteron said.
Simple actions, they say, like washing your hands, covering your mouth and not allowing your child to go to school if they are sick, go a long way. “Every parent knows when their child is sick, when something is wrong,” urged Conteron. “Go to the hospital. You won’t lose anything. Go get it checked out.”
On Feb. 12 this year, the one-year anniversary of their daughter’s death, Nevaeh’s parents hosted a remembrance walk for their daughter. Conteron and Hernandez are working with The End-FLUenza Project, a non-profit organization that helps grieving families like Nevaeh’s.
“We bring awareness about flu, we educate the public about flu,” explained Rebecca Hendricks, founder of The End-FLUenza Project. “We help people identify what flu is, so they can seek medical attention urgently. We offer events like this to families who have lost a child to the flu to bring the community together and keep that memory alive of their child.”
Nevaeh’s parents keep her memory alive by sharing her story, and encouraging them to get the flu shot. They still miss their daughter’s smile and positive energy every day.
“I just miss being hugged by her, you know. I miss how much she loved me. Even if I was just going to the store, she would always want to come with me,” said Hernandez. “If I had five minutes with her I would tell her how much I love her.”