By now, it’s certainly no secret that the most devastating flu season in years is upon us.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there have been 53 influenza-related child deaths in the 2017/2018 flu season, with 17 fatalities reported last week alone.
The flu’s latest victim was a sweet 7-year-old named Savanna from Columbus, Indiana, who left the hospital with a sore throat last week and lost her life just two days later.
Her father, Matthew Jessie, never could have anticipated that the precious moments of laughter he shared with his daughter on Wednesday night would be their last.
“Thursday morning, I went [into her room] to wake her up and see how she was, and she was cold,” he told PEOPLE. “I turned her over and she was blue. I went to see if her belly was moving, to see if she was breathing, and she wasn’t breathing.”
“It was very, very scary,” says the 38-year-old father. “It was terrifying.”
According to Matthew, Savanna developed a sore throat on Monday followed by a fever the next day. When he took her to the hospital, doctors diagnosed the child with strep throat and released her that night.
When the 7-year-old’s symptoms intensified the following day, Matthew took her back to the doctor who again sent her home with a prescription of Tamiflu.
The grieving father is still processing the surreal tragedy that he has not been able to wrap his mind around. Though flu-related deaths this year have been rapidly on the rise, he never suspected that it could claim his baby girl with such a healthy track record.
“It happened so fast it just doesn’t seem like it’s real,” says Matthew. “There were no signs that indicated that this was gonna happen. She was never sick in her younger years.”
According to the Bartholomew County Coroner, Savanna tested positive for strep throat, flu, and scarlet fever. An autopsy will later be carried out to pinpoint the exact cause of her death.
“I miss her every day,” her heartbroken father told PEOPLE. “Her smile. Her laugh that she had. Waking up and seeing her beautiful face, her beautiful smile.”
“I feel like I’m in a dream, and she’s gonna come home any day now or we’re gonna wake up. It doesn’t seem real. She was a very loving kid.”
Matthew can only describe the sudden loss as a “horrible nightmare.”
Coming home to instinctively set a table for four kids, only to realize he now has three, deepens the wound that has just begun to sink in.
“It’s hard coming home to where all of this happened,” he confesses. “When you’re getting ready to make dinner, you get out four plates for the kids to make their plates and you catch yourself because there’s only three now.”
He only hopes that the soul-wrenching tragedy his family has had to endure will serve as a warning to other parents to take their children’s flu symptoms very seriously.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) strongly urges everyone to get the flu vaccine, which can reduce the chance of getting the virus by as much as 60 percent. According to their website, they recommend “a yearly flu shot (after six months old) for kids aged 0 to six.”
While not all flu symptoms require medical attention, they state that people with “emergency warning signs” should visit an emergency room.
Trouble signs to look out for in children include bluish skin, reduced appetite, problems breathing, extreme irritability, fever with rash, fewer wet diapers, not wanting to be held, and no tears when crying.
Al.com says parents should also seek immediate medical attention if “flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough.”
For a full list of ’emergency warning signs’ in both children and adults, visit Al.com.
If you’d like to financially support the Jessie family, A YouCaring page has been set up to cover funeral expenses.