Flu kills 'fit and active' woman

KEEN TRAMPER: Natalie Cadenhead,  47, shown here on the Milford Track last year, died from complications after she contracted influenza.
KEEN TRAMPER: Natalie Cadenhead, 47, shown here on the Milford Track last year, died from complications after she contracted influenza.

This time last year, 47-year-old Natalie Cadenhead and her husband George Rogers were walking the Milford Track.

Today, Rogers is coming to terms with being a widower after Cadenhead became an unsuspecting victim to influenza.

Almost two weeks after her life support was switched off, Rogers wants people to wise up to the warning signs and immunise against the H1N1 virus, something his wife did not do because she was allergic to certain medicines.

His wife was a keen tramper, active and healthy.

"Reflecting now, it probably would have been good to have her immunised, but being healthy and with her allergies, it seemed like the right thing to do," he said.

Up to 20 per cent of New Zealanders contract the flu each year, but health authorities say this year's numbers are lower than usual.

Ministry of Health figures show 1.2 million doses of flu vaccines have been distributed this year.

In Canterbury 200,000 doses of the vaccine have been distributed for 38 per cent of the population - 17,000 doses fewer than this time last year.

Cadenhead and Rogers both fell ill with the virus two months ago.

Rogers shook the cough and body aches in days, but after 13 days, his wife was still battling the symptoms.

On June 9, she got up to go to her cultural wellbeing role at the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) and felt dizzy.

Within hours, she was in Christchurch Hospital's intensive care unit.

Cadenhead was given oxygen through a tube in her throat because her lungs filled with fluid and became inflamed.

As her health deteriorated, doctors sent her to Auckland, where she could have access to a a special lung bypass machine, dialysis and a range of treatments, including Tamiflu.

"It was 28 days until she had finally come off the bypass machine. There were people waiting to use it and the hospital wanted to get her off because there are associated risks of her being on it," Rogers said.

On July 10, an improving Cadenhead was flown back to Christchurch, along with a "cautiously optimistic" Rogers.

She was doing well, but she had a complication - an inoperable infection in her stomach - as the virus and treatment weakened her immune system.

Her family said goodbye and turned off the life support on July 24.

"There was nothing that could be done," Rogers said.

"I have been told this flu was in some ways like the 1918 flu outbreak which tended to hit middle-aged healthy people."

His wife of 14 years, whose career included work in Antarctica and years as curator at the Christchurch Museum, had a fitting send off.

Cera chief executive Roger Sutton spoke at her funeral and friends in Scott Base, Antarctica, flew the Kiwi flag at half mast.

Rogers said he hoped people would get immunised against the flu and be wary of the symptoms at an early stage.

Canterbury District Health Board clinical virologist Lance Jennings said those most at risk included young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with underlying diseases.

But as it became apparent in 2009 when 49 people died, healthy people could suffer severely too.

"We are doing well [nationally] but we could be doing a lot better," Jennings said.

The Press