Swine flu death toll increases

A few days after experiencing flulike symptoms, 34-year-old Sabrina Gibson phoned an ambulance from her workplace.

Within days, she was unconscious. She spent the next two months in the intensive care unit at Valley Hospital Medical Center, barely speaking, hooked up to monitors as her 35th birthday passed.

On July 24, after being diagnosed with the H1N1 virus and suffering massive internal bleeding and lung failure, she died.

"It took two weeks before they determined if she had the swine flu, and they cured her of that," said her father, 67-year-old Thomas Wilson, on Thursday. "But by that point, the damage had been done."

Gibson was one of two people to have died in the past week after contracting the H1N1 virus. She had no underlying medical conditions.

A 73-year-old man with underlying conditions died Monday, Southern Nevada Health District spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore said. She did not identify the man or his underlying conditions.

Six deaths have been attributed to the so-called swine flu virus in Clark County. The total includes a 70-year-old New York woman who was ill when she arrived in Nevada.

"We do know that flu each season causes tens of thousands of deaths in the United States," Sizemore said. "Unfortunately, we expect to see more deaths that are attributed to the H1N1 virus."

Wilson described his daughter's death while surrounded by family in her hometown of Lineville, Ala., a small community about two hours east of Birmingham, Ala. Her burial is set for today.

Gibson deteriorated rapidly after her hospitalization, slipping in and out of consciousness as doctors tried to treat her. After her diagnosis, hope grew that she would recover.

"She came to on my birthday, the 15th of June, and she opened her eyes and smiled at me," said Wilson, whose birthday falls 10 days after his daughter's. "And from that point on, it was a roller coaster."

She suffered setback after setback, with periods of recovery in between.

Gibson's family and friends were optimistic until the last day, when she went into surgery to have a tube inserted into her stomach, Wilson said. She came out of it in cardiac arrest and died soon after.

Wilson said he has nothing bad to say about his daughter's stay at Valley, noting that some nurses cried after her death.

"The people at that hospital worked as hard as anybody I've ever seen. They were great," he said.

Gibson left Alabama for Las Vegas about 31/2 years ago and worked at the La Piazza restaurant, on the corner of Main Street and Washington Avenue. She enjoyed karaoke and had many friends, said a close friend who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The close friend said Gibson began feeling ill on May 24. He delivered NyQuil to her at La Piazza that day.

The close friend said Gibson occasionally used an inhaler, but he did not know what medical condition, if any, she used it for.

Wilson said his daughter was surrounded by family and friends in the last two months of her life.

"She liked Las Vegas, and she liked the people there," Wilson said. "I found them to be some of the friendliest people I've ever met. People I've never met before would take me into their home and treat me like family."

As of July 24, the health district had confirmed 210 swine flu cases in Clark County residents, with four of those patients remaining hospitalized.

Symptoms of the H1N1 virus resemble those of other strains of influenza, including fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with the swine flu.

Most cases of the H1N1 virus are mild and require no treatment.

Sizemore said flu season typically runs from October through May.

"We are seeing higher levels of flu than we would normally see during the summer," the spokeswoman said. "The vast majority of the cases we are seeing are the swine flu."

Wilson said his daughter's rapid deterioration should show that people should not wait to seek treatment when they begin feeling ill.

"She was just a wonderful, outgoing girl," he said. "We miss her very much."

Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440. Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135.