Richard and Elizabeth MacDowell didn't live under a rock.
They had heard news reports about the swine flu pandemic. They had even discussed the topic.
"It was one of those nebulous things that happened to someone else," Elizabeth MacDowell said Friday. "Maybe that's why I'm so determined to come public with it."
On Aug. 31, the swine flu claimed her husband's life and changed hers forever. She is telling their story because she wants others to take the disease seriously.
The Southern Nevada Health District has reported 11 deaths related to the swine flu, formally known as the H1N1 virus, since the respiratory disease first hit the area this spring. That total includes a 70-year-old New York woman who was ill when she arrived in Nevada.
As of Sept. 4, the health district had confirmed 337 cases. Two patients remained hospitalized with severe illness.
Health district spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore said the number of confirmed cases probably represents a small percentage of the actual cases in Clark County, "because testing isn't recommended on a widespread basis."
"For the most part, H1N1 is causing mild illness, and people are recovering on their own and don't need to seek medical treatment," Sizemore said.
At 51, Richard MacDowell didn't fall into a high-risk group. When the health district reported his death, along with the death of a 41-year-woman, a spokeswoman did not identify them by name but said both had underlying medical conditions.
Elizabeth MacDowell insists that her husband of 10 years suffered from nothing more serious than arthritis before he began feeling sick on Aug. 14. That day, a Friday, Richard MacDowell said he felt a little tired and had a sore throat.
"Nothing alarming," Elizabeth MacDowell said.
He felt a little worse on Saturday but went to work on Sunday. His job as a shuttle bus driver involved transporting tourists between McCarran International Airport and the hotels.
After work that day, he went to an urgent care center and received a prescription for an antibiotic. "He told me it was pneumonia," Elizabeth MacDowell said.
By Thursday, he was feeling worse. He returned to the urgent care center and was sent home with a prescription for cough syrup.
"His cough at this point was outrageous," Elizabeth MacDowell said.
The coughing kept both of the MacDowells awake at night. On Saturday, Aug. 22, Richard MacDowell returned to the urgent care center with a 102-degree fever.
This time, he was sent home with oxygen tanks and a prescription for a different antibiotic.
Richard MacDowell still couldn't sleep, and he made his fourth trip to the urgent care center the following morning. He still had a 102-degree fever.
"He's walking like a little old man," Elizabeth MacDowell recalled. "He could barely move."
This time he returned home with a nebulizer, a device used in treating respiratory diseases.
"By Monday night, he was gasping for air and choking," Elizabeth MacDowell said.
That's when she decided to take her husband to Valley Hospital Medical Center.
At the hospital, Richard MacDowell told his wife to go home and get some rest. He knew he had kept her awake the previous four nights.
Elizabeth MacDowell remembers how her husband's skin felt -- sweaty and clammy -- as she kissed him on the forehead before leaving. When she returned the next morning, she found him attached to a ventilator.
"I never spoke to him again after Monday night," she said.
A doctor told Elizabeth MacDowell that her husband might not recover. He also told her a swine flu test had come back negative. A few days later, she learned that a different type of swine flu test had a positive result.
Elizabeth MacDowell's phone rang early on the morning of Aug. 31. Medical professionals were trying to resuscitate her husband. She made it to the hospital within 10 minutes, but Richard MacDowell was already dead.
"It just wore him out," his widow said.
Now she is on a mission to spread her message about the swine flu.
"Maybe that's why I'm not crying," she said. "He's not going to die in vain."
Elizabeth MacDowell said she doesn't want to scare Clark County residents; she just wants them to be vigilant, especially if they work with the public or find themselves feeling sicker than they've ever felt before. If necessary, insist on a swine flu test, she said.
Most swine flu patients survive, Elizabeth MacDowell said, "but you've got to take it seriously."
She said she hadn't considered the possibility that swine flu was causing her husband's symptoms until a doctor raised the issue at the hospital. She believes he would be alive today if he had been diagnosed earlier.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710.