Alani "Joie" Murrieta, a 20-year-old mother of two from Phoenix, Arizona, died last Tuesday — only one day after being diagnosed with the flu.
Murrieta is remembered as a proud mother, a hard worker, and an amazing friend. "She did everything she could for her two boys — she was the best mother to them," her aunt Stephanie Gonzales told BuzzFeed News. Murrieta was also described by her family as being healthy and having no preexisting health conditions.
Murrieta began feeling sick last Sunday and was sent home from her job at a warehouse to get some rest.
"I saw her on Thanksgiving and she was fine and perfectly healthy," Gonzales told BuzzFeed News. After Thanksgiving, Gonzales said the whole family got sick, including her daughter who works at a warehouse with Murrieta. And everyone eventually recovered, she said, except Murrieta.
"My daughter called and said that Joie was sent home early on Sunday after working a few hours at the warehouse because she was really sick, and that she went home to rest," Gonzales said.
On Monday, her sister took her to an urgent care clinic, where they diagnosed Murrieta with the flu and sent her home with medicine.
"They got there in the morning and waited for a while, then they told her she had the flu and gave her a prescription for the medicine Tamiflu," Gonzales said. Tamiflu is an antiviral medication used to treat and prevent infection with influenza A and B viruses. It is most effective when taken within 48 hours of contracting the flu.
"She picked up the Tamiflu, took it as prescribed, and came home to rest — I asked her if they did an X-ray at urgent care and she said no," Gonzales said. However, Murrieta was coughing repeatedly when she got home. "She slept but her family said she coughed throughout the entire night," Gonzales said.
By Tuesday morning, Murrieta's symptoms had worsened and she was having trouble breathing, so she went to the hospital.
"She woke up at 6 a.m. that morning and told her mom that she was feeling worse and having trouble breathing and that she even spit up some blood after coughing," Gonzales said.
The family immediately took her to the hospital, and Murrieta began having trouble breathing while waiting in the emergency room. "When they checked her, they found her oxygen levels were low and did an X-ray that revealed she had a bad case of pneumonia from the flu," Gonzales said.
That same afternoon, Murrieta was transferred to the ICU, where she died of pneumonia caused by the flu.
After starting intravenous antibiotics, Gonzales says her niece's health began to decline — and they moved her to the intensive care unit (ICU) around noon. "She had lost consciousness and they were trying to put her on a ventilator and remove the fluid from her lungs, but it wasn't working," Gonzales says.
While being transported to the ICU, Murrieta's heart stopped. "Doctors were able to resuscitate her, but as soon as we came into the ICU to see her, her heart stopped again and the doctors tried again to resuscitate but it wasn't working —
several minutes passed and they told us there was nothing they could do," Gonzales says. Murrieta arrived at the hospital around 7 a.m. and was declared dead at 3:25 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017.
Murrieta was healthy and had no preexisting health conditions, according to her family. "I would've never thought that her getting the flu would cause her death," Gonzales said.
"She was very healthy and never got sick, she worked six days a week and her job was at a warehouse so she was very active at her job," said Gonzales. Murrieta was seemingly not at a higher risk for hospitalization or death from the flu. Older people, very young children, those with compromised immune systems or other health conditions, and women who are pregnant tend to be at higher risk for problems.
"I still don’t understand how this happened to her so fast — she went from feeling a little sick on Sunday to going to urgent care on Monday and then being gone by Tuesday afternoon," Gonzales said. Murrieta did not get a flu shot, Gonzales said, but her doctors said that there is no way to tell now whether that would've made a difference.
People die from the flu every year in the US. The best way to protect yourself is by getting a flu vaccine and going to the doctor if you're feeling sick.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that infects the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death, often by causing a fatal case of pneumonia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, since 2010, there have been between 140,000 and 710,000 flu-related hospitalizations and 12,000 to 56,000 flu-related deaths.
The best way to protect yourself is by getting the seasonal flu vaccine — it's not 100% effective, but it can prevent some strains of flu and lessen the severity of the flu if you do get it. Talk to your doctor about whether the flu shot is safe for you and which type you'll need based on your individual health. And if you do get sick or suspect you have the flu, go to the doctor as soon as possible. Antivirals like Tamiflu can lessen the severity and shorten the course of the flu, but only if they're taken right after you get sick.
"All I want people to know is don’t take life for granted. If you’re feeling sick, go to the doctor. Know your body and trust how you're feeling — I would've never [have] thought that when she felt sick on Sunday, that it would kill her," Gonzales said.
"She was a great mother, and just so smart and respectful — so many people loved her. She was amazing."
"As her aunt, I loved her with all my heart but I never realized how many people she knew who really loved her too — we had a car wash to raise her funeral funds and I was amazed at how many of her friends came out and told us stories about her — she was amazing," Gonzales said. "She was so funny and loud — I'd always tell her that even if we were in a crowded bar full of people with music playing, I could still hear her voice," Gonzales said.
Murrieta leaves behind her two sons, one two-year-old and one six-month-old. "She would do anything for her sons — and it breaks my heart that the little one, who's only six months, will grow up without her," Gonzales said. "She was just a beautiful person — and we want to express our gratitude for everyone who has shown support for our family."
Murrieta's family has set up a Go Fund Me account to help pay for her funeral expenses.
BuzzFeed News reached out to the hospital where Murrieta was treated, Banner Estrella Medical Center in Phoenix, who confirmed her death but could not release any additional information.