I am a doctor and the flu killed my healthy 16-year-old daughter: I urge you to get vaccinated


As a pediatrician, Dr. César Termulo, 53, treats many children sick with the flu during the winter season. When his 16-year-old daughter, Teresa ‘Reese’ Termulo, came down with the flu in early January 2020, it seemed like a typical case, but he was devastated when she died a day after being diagnosed. As flu cases rise, Termulo, who practices at Parkland Health in Dallas, Texas, urges people to get vaccinated against the flu and warns parents to watch for symptoms. He shared his story with .com.

When people think the flu is harmless, they are wrong. It can cause death.

My daughter, Reese, had absolutely no health problems. She had no chronic illnesses. She was completely healthy.

She was on her high school dance team and was at the top of her class. We had already started visiting universities. She told me that she also planned to be a doctor.

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The morning after he was diagnosed with the flu, I told him, “Reese, you’re going to get better.” Those were the last words I said to him.

Her symptoms started on the morning of January 9, 2020. She had a fever and cough at school, so as soon as the school called, we took her to my office and she tested positive for the flu. We started her on oseltamivir, or Tamiflu, an antiviral medication.

Dr. Cesar Termulo with his daughter, Teresa, who died from complications of the flu at age 16. Courtesy of Dr. Cesar Termulo

She felt a little tired, so she went home to rest. But she still kept doing her homework, chatting with friends, using Snapchat and all those things that a normal teenager does.

The next morning I asked her, “Reese, how are you feeling?” and she said her chest hurt. She had a pain under her ribs, which is a muscle pain from coughing a lot.

I knew that you can die from the flu and it is usually caused by bacterial pneumonia superimposed after getting the flu.

The first thing I do as a pediatrician and parent is check his lungs, and his lungs were completely clear. I didn’t hear any signs of pneumonia. His breathing didn’t sound labored nor did he breathe quickly. I had no symptoms that indicated death was imminent.

In children, the flu can cause febrile seizures. It can even cause encephalopathy and death.

Doctor Cesar Termulo

Reese stayed home from school that day and my wife was taking care of her. They prayed the rosary. My wife wanted to read something to her and the first thing that appeared on her phone was the Bible verse that talks about how all the time we have on Earth is a treasure.

Later that morning, Reese went back to bed and my wife went down to make him some soup. When he came back up, Reese had stopped breathing.

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My wife tried to revive her and called 911, then me. I ran home and when I got there, first responders were loading Reese into the ambulance. One of them said, “We can’t measure his heart rate.”

The ER knew I was a doctor, so I finally got to see them working on her. It was horrible and I knew she didn’t seem alive anymore. She was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Reese planned to follow in his father's footsteps and become a doctor.
Reese planned to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor.Courtesy of Dr. Cesar Termulo

The autopsy concluded that the official cause of death was influenza and type A pneumonia due to streptococcus found in his lungs.

When we gave him a strep test the day before, it came back negative. But group A strep spread to her blood and was even found in her brain. He had pneumonia that caused sepsis and overwhelmed his body. That made his heart stop.

A person can get the flu and, if pneumonia occurs, they can suffer sudden death. My daughter died a day after she was diagnosed with the flu.

Many people asked if it was COVID-19, but there hadn’t been any cases of COVID in the United States yet at the time, and the coronavirus can’t kill a child that quickly.

People think the flu is a runny nose, cough or fever, but it’s more than that. The flu can be pneumonia. In children, the flu can cause febrile seizures. In children with asthma, it can cause asthma attacks. It can even cause encephalopathy and death.

Reese received the flu vaccine in December 2019, but that year’s vaccine did not cover influenza B/Victoria, which is the flu strain that killed her.

“She’s not gone forever. I’ll see her again eventually,” Reese’s father said. “My faith is what allows me to move forward and be resilient.”Courtesy of Dr. Cesar Termulo

I still urge people to get the flu vaccine even though it didn’t work for my daughter. The analogy I make is: Would you drive 80 miles per hour without wearing a seat belt? It is illogical, although seat belts do not always save from death. Likewise, it is illogical not to get vaccinated against the flu. It is not 100% effective, but it can reduce the chances of death if you contract this superimposed pneumonia.

As soon as you have a high fever during flu season, simply get tested for the flu. It is easy to do. If it is the flu, you should start taking Tamiflu within the first two days. That’s when it will be most effective.

One thing I realized as a doctor is that even though I did everything I was supposed to do, I can’t control death.

I’m still recovering from Reese’s passing. Every moment we have is precious. Our life is temporary: it can be taken from us at any moment.