The Flu Nearly Killed Him. Now He Says 'Get The Vaccine' : Shots - Health News When 39-year-old Charlie Hinderliter got the flu last winter, he ended up in a medically induced coma and spent 58 days hospitalized. Serious, even fatal, complications can hit patients of any age.
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Last Year, The Flu Put Him In A Coma. This Year He's Getting The Shot

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Last Year, The Flu Put Him In A Coma. This Year He's Getting The Shot

Last Year, The Flu Put Him In A Coma. This Year He's Getting The Shot

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Maybe this is you. You see the signs at work or your pharmacy - flu shots available. But when are you going to make time, and do these shots really work anyway? This next story may change the way you think. Last year was one of the deadliest flu seasons in decades. An estimated 80,000 Americans died, and a 39-year-old St. Louis man was almost one of them. Now he's encouraging everyone to do something he had never done before. Bram Sable-Smith reports.

BRAM SABLE-SMITH, BYLINE: Charlie Hinderliter wasn't opposed to the flu shot. He's not against vaccinations or anything like that.

CHARLIE HINDERLITER: I figured this is something that's dangerous to the elderly and the young, not to somebody who's healthy and in their 30s.

SABLE-SMITH: Charlie is 39. He's director of government affairs at the St. Louis Realtors Association. And like more than half of Americans, he didn't get one. He just didn't think he needed a flu shot.

HINDERLITER: As it turns out, I was wrong.

SABLE-SMITH: Wrong. Like, 58 days in the hospital, a week in a medically-induced coma, two surgeries, three weeks in a nursing home - that kind of wrong. Nine months after he first came down with the flu, Charlie's still getting medical checkups, like with his nurse practitioner, Megan Fjellanger.

MEGAN FJELLANGER: I know you sent a message the other day that you were having some congestion, runny nose. How are you doing with that?

HINDERLITER: Fine. Still have a cough, but by and large, symptoms have improved.

SABLE-SMITH: Fjellanger was actually the first person to realize something was really wrong back in January. Charlie came in. He already knew he had the flu. Actually, his wife had it, too. But Fjellanger was concerned.

FJELLANGER: He looked terrible.

SABLE-SMITH: She recommended Charlie go to the ER. By the time he'd got there, he had organ failure. Charlie's flu had led to pneumonia and then to sepsis, a life-threatening complication that can cause organs to fail. Charlie was put into a medically-induced coma for over a week. His father and brother flew in from out of town and were told they may need to say goodbye.

HINDERLITER: I knew when I woke up that I'd been near death.

SABLE-SMITH: His muscles had atrophied. The doctors were worried about brain damage. He needed a feeding tube to eat.

HINDERLITER: I basically was bed-bound. I had to have help to move to a chair.

SABLE-SMITH: All of this from the flu. It's hard to say why it hit Charlie so hard. His doctor, Kevin King, says, sure, there are things that can predispose people to complications from the flu - age, a lack of immunity. But Charlie was young and healthy.

KEVIN KING: It can affect anybody. And it doesn't matter how healthy you're going in.

SABLE-SMITH: And that's why King says the flu shot is important for everybody. It doesn't offer complete protection. But if you get vaccinated and still get the flu, you'll likely get a milder case. Things did get better for Charlie. Eventually, he left the hospital and spent three weeks rehabbing in a nursing home, the same one where his grandmother was being treated for advanced dementia.

HINDERLITER: Which was not an experience I expected. But all the family members that came to visit got a twofer. You know, they got to visit her and me.

SABLE-SMITH: On April 16, two days before his 39th birthday, he got out of the nursing home and went to his home for the first time in three months. He started driving again in May, working part time in June, got back to the office in August. But the experience was still gnawing at him.

HINDERLITER: I was laying awake at nights still kind of trying to process what I'd gone through this year. So I took to Twitter to share that and used my story as an example of this is why you should get a flu shot.

SABLE-SMITH: Slowly life is returning to normal for Charlie except for one thing. In September, for the first time he can remember, he got a flu shot. For NPR News, I'm Bram Sable-Smith.

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