27-Year-Old Woman Dies After Contracting Flu

On Friday, Dec. 1, 27-year-old Katharine Gallagher left work early when she developed a fever, diarrhea, cold sweats, body aches and nausea. Five days later, she was dead.

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(Photo: Facebook / Katharine Gallagher)

Tustin, California-based Gallagher died from complications from the flu just days after she contracted the virus that has already taken dozens of young lives across the country this flu season.

Gallagher's mother, Liz Gallager, says her daughter thought she would recover if she just got some rest on Friday.

“I asked her if she would like to go to the doctor, and, as a typical young person, she said she was fine and that she was just exhausted, and needed sleep,” Liz Gallagher told PEOPLE. “She felt the same way on Saturday when I talked to her, but by then, she really had an issue with nausea, dizziness and coughing.”

Liz Gallagher brought her daughter into urgent care that same day, where she was prescribed antibiotics and given an IV to help with dehydration. Even though the urgent care did not accept Katharine's insurance, Liz felt it was important for her to get medical help.

Katharine, a server at a local brewery, felt better the next day despite her coughing and back and stomach ache — but by Tuesday, her dizziness had worsened and she was having difficulties breathing.

Liz said her daughter was adamant about not wanting to see a doctor.

“I wanted her to go to my doctor because she had never been to her doctor since she had never really been sick. We chatted by text several times that day, and it even got a little heated,” Liz recalled. “She’s writing back in capital letters telling me that I should just let her take the medicine, get sleep and she’d be better. She wanted to give the antibiotic a chance to work.”

Around 3:20 p.m. Katharine texted her mother telling her she was laying down for a nap. Less than three hours later, Liz received a call from Katharine's boyfriend, who found her unconscious and slouched over in the bathroom. He started chest compressions while waiting for paramedics to arrive.

“After about 10 minutes, he said to me, ‘They’ve called it,’ ” Liz says, “It was a total and complete shock.”

About three weeks before her 28th birthday and just days after she initially showed symptoms of the flu, Katharine was pronounced dead on Dec. 5. She had severe acute bronchial pneumonia, a complication of the virus.

The Centers For Disease Control says that even though the flu shot is not 100 percent effective, it can still lessen the chance that someone catches it by 10 to 60 percent. Katharine did not receive the flu shot before experiencing symptoms, Liz said.

Liz battles with guilt, wondering if she should have taken her daughter to the emergency room rather than an urgent care clinic. She says she hopes young people are taking precautions from the virus that has killed 40 people below the age of 65 since last fall in California alone. The CDC currently lists the 2017 to 2018 flu season as “moderately severe,” but warns that it could get worse

“Don’t put off going to the doctor when you get sick. Get help. If I would have been able to convince her to go Friday, would it have made a difference? I just don’t know, and that’s what is agonizing,” she said. “Don’t be complacent and don’t think you’re invincible. Don’t think this can never happen to you. This is very serious, and you would think a healthy young woman would be able to fight it off.”

Liz says her family will miss Katharine, their only child.

"She was strong-willed and felt like she was doing what was necessary, she went to urgent care, she got antibiotics, she thought she was doing her best,” Liz says of her daughter, who was always outgoing, friendly and bubbly. “It’s devastating for us, she is our only child. It’s just unbelievable to lose her to something like this. It happened so fast and she’s gone. She’s just… gone.”