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Flu claims another with death of Las Vegas woman, 24

Updated February 9, 2018 - 10:20 pm

Jenna Libidinsky went to the doctor Jan. 25 and four more times over the next eight days.

Doctors and nurses prescribed antibiotics, an inhaler, steroids and cough syrup.

But the 24-year-old Las Vegas woman just wasn’t getting any better.

“What do all doctors tell us when you have a bad chest cold? A cough is going to be around for a couple of weeks. OK, so, that’s what we’re thinking,” her father, Neil, said Friday.

But this wasn’t just a cough. It was the especially virulent flu strain that has spread misery and heartache across the U.S. this winter.

Neil and his wife, Marla, are among those grieving after losing a loved one to the disease. They said goodbye to their smiley girl around 5:45 a.m. Wednesday while a nurse pressed her lungs to keep her alive long enough for mom and dad to say “I love you, bugaboo” one last time.

Even before Jenna Libidinsky’s death, confirmed flu deaths in Clark County this season stood at 22, more than triple last winter’s number. There had been almost 1,000 confirmed flu cases in the county as of Feb. 3, according to Southern Nevada Health District data released Friday.

Jenna’s death was especially shocking, given her age and the fact that she was in good health.

“She’s not in the risk pool,” said Dr. Michael Johnson, director of community health at the Southern Nevada Health District. “Young adults that are in their early 20s … they’re actually one of the least likely age groups to die from flu or pneumonia.”

When young adults do succumb to the virus, it’s usually because the person hasn’t received a flu vaccine. That was the case with Jenna. Her parents, who aren’t immunized either, are now reconsidering.

Her death offers another heartbreaking example of the havoc the disease is wreaking nationwide. In one week in mid-January, one in 10 deaths in the U.S. was due to the flu and pneumonia, a common complication, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Acting Director Dr. Anne Schuchat said in a press call Friday morning.

Levels of flu-like illness are as high as they were during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, she said.

And it’s not over yet. February, Johnson said, is still peak flu season.

“Flu season runs into April, early May in Southern Nevada,” he said.

Jenna had a fever for nine days before it finally broke. “I remember she made the comment, ‘I’m starting to feel like my old self,’” Neil said.

A brief respite

But that cough and an earache persisted.

On Tuesday, Jenna left the house with her mom. They had a girl’s night — manicures and pedicures, dinner at Chili’s and watching “Criminal Minds” in bed. Around 10 p.m., Marla kissed her daughter good night and said “I love you,” as the family always did before ending a conversation or leaving the room. Jenna FaceTimed a few friends before laying her head to rest.

Around 3 a.m., she got up to go to the bathroom and then screamed and collapsed.

As her dad tried to find a pair of leggings on Jenna’s messy bedroom floor so he could drive her to the hospital, he realized she was delirious and instead dialed 911.

For two hours, paramedics and nurses tried to resuscitate Jenna, but her lungs had failed. Marla and Neil said their goodbyes. As hard as that was, they say they know she’s watching them from heaven.

When they went to the doctor Thursday for a Tamiflu prescription — just in case — their doctor turned white in disbelief at Jenna’s outcome.

“She says, ‘You couldn’t have done anything different than you did,’” Neil said. “(She was) totally dumbfounded.”

Chili dogs and sushi

Jenna Libidinsky wasn’t supposed to be born. Marla had been unable to get pregnant and had almost given up when Jenna was born.

For 24 years, she was their miracle.

The family was inseparable. Jenna and her dad would poke each other, and Marla would yell for them to stop, while they watched TV on the couch. Father and daughter preferred horror movies. When Jenna was with her mom, it was crime shows and chick flicks.

She dreamed of marriage, having kids and becoming a dental hygienist.

Jenna was always hanging with her friends — “Being at home was the worst thing ever,” her dad joked — and put others before her own health, as evidenced by her love for chili dogs and sushi.

She was planning to change that, Neil and Marla said. Once Jenna recovered, she was going to focus more on herself — and get that flu shot.

Harsh lessons

The only thing Marla and Neil Libidinsky say they’d do differently is make Jenna sit up through her coughing fits instead of laying down — a friend of a friend, who’s a paramedic, said that might have taken some stress off her lungs.

The health district’s Johnson agreed. “It can help, certainly for comfort,” he said.

But the big lesson is to get the flu shot, Johnson says. It’s not 100 percent effective, but can help dampen symptoms if you come down with the flu.

The Libidinskys came away from the tragedy with lessons as well.

“Go hug your children,” Marla said.

Choking back tears, Neil agreed: “The pain of losing her is worth knowing her for 24 years.”

Contact Jessie Bekker at jbekker@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4563. Follow @jessiebekks on Twitter.

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