In December 2012, Jennifer White lost her precious five-year-old daughter, Olivia, to what’s being described as an “impossible to catch” illness.
In a heartbreaking personal essay written for Today’s Parent, Jennifer describes the day Olivia first fell sick. She complained of an earache and was promptly taken to a walk-in clinic and prescribed antibiotics. Olivia took her prescribed dosages and life continued as usual over the coming days. She even performed at her year-end school concert the following Wednesday.
But by Friday, the last day of school before the winter break, Olivia was sent home because she wasn’t feeling well.
Jennifer noticed spots on Olivia’s stomach.
“I remembered that years before, she had developed spots after taking (amoxicillin),” wrote Jennifer. “Back then, the doctor said that the reaction was common and she would likely grow out of it.”
This time, another doctor said that it was “probably a reaction” and advised that Olivia stop taking the antibiotic. “Go home,” he told her.
By Sunday, Jennifer recalls more purplish spots appearing on Olivia’s body. At a Christmas gathering that evening, Olivia refused to eat or drink anything. A relative suggested that Olivia was probably dehydrated and to feed her a few popsicles, but she refused.
The following day, on Christmas Eve 2012, Olivia’s father, Glenn, took her to the ER. After examining her and taking Olivia’s temperature, the doctor assured them that nothing was wrong.
“Give her Tylenol and time,” Glenn was told.
Olivia was throwing up throughout the night and sick on Christmas day, so Jennifer prepared her favourite dinner as Olivia watched “Scooby-Doo” with her dad.
After vomiting fluids throughout the day, Olivia miraculously ate some dinner before going to bed.
“I didn’t say goodnight. I didn’t say ‘I love you.’ I didn’t say ‘See you tomorrow,’ like I always did,” said Jennifer. She believed that everything would be OK — that Olivia was slowly getting better, and that the next day she’d open her presents and eat her dessert and they’d be past it.
“Occasionally she would throw up her drink and we’d soothe her, clean her up and try to get on with it. It was just like a dozen tummy upsets we had seen before — just with purple spots.”
But the next morning, when Jennifer went to wake up Olivia, she discovered that her child had passed away. It likely happened in the early hours of the morning.
“What happened next, I will not put into words. I can’t. Just pure emotion. Pure hell,” Jennifer wrote.
Doctors suggest that Olivia likely contracted a bacterial infection through a bite or a scrape, weeks, months or perhaps years before she fell deathly ill. This likely occurred at a time when her immune system was compromised by a cold or flu, wrote Jennifer.
“Most likely, she contracted mononucleosis,” Jennifer wrote. “While suffering through mono, she developed a blood infection and likely passed away from a cardiac event caused by severe septicemia— blood poisoning — that three separate medical professionals didn’t catch.”
The mono, she added, was an asymptomatic type—meaning all of the problems and none of the symptoms.
“Testing for it would have been like coming in for a splinter and asking for a brain scan. The coroner insists that it could not have been found. It would not have been found. Even if I had screamed in the ER that she had mono, I would have been told “No, she can’t.”
The mother of three has since set up Wishes for Olivia, a not-for-profit fundraising organization that raises money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Canada to make wishes come true for children across Canada — to date they have raised over $205,000.
Still, every day Jennifer wakes up with the horrifying thought that she somehow failed her child.
“Every day, I have to wipe my eyes, smooth my clothes, put a smile on and do things that normal people do, while inside every fibre of me wants to break apart from grief. My most precious possession is gone,” she wrote.
“Every night before I go to bed, I count. I count the time until I see her again. I’ve randomly chosen a date in the future — June 27, 2064, my 87th birthday — and I’ve decided that on that day, I will lay down, look at her picture… and I will decide that I’ve been patient enough. I will go to sleep. And I will see her again.”
“Only 422,798 more hours left. Until then.”
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