Last month, Tim Schell and his wife Dana flew to Colorado for a ski trip.
The White Lake residents hit the slopes, but after one run, Schell began to feel ill. They returned to their hotel. Two days later, on Jan. 31, Schell, 51, was dead. The cause? According to his family, it was Influenza A — the most harmful strain of the virus.
"Before the trip, Tim felt fine and was healthy," said Schell's niece, Paige Bastas.
Grappling with an unexpected and traumatic loss, Schell's family is sharing their loved one's story hoping to raise awareness about the realities of the seemingly common seasonal virus.
"We want to really emphasize the fact that they were on a plane and believe that that is how Tim got sick," Bastas wrote in an email. "We want to let everyone know how dangerous it is for the people around you if you travel/come into contact with people while you are ill."
While the exact number of influenza-related deaths this season is unknown, infection rates for 2017-18 are higher than any year since 2009 when the swine flu pandemic was in full swing. Also notable, hospitalization rates are at a high; a fact, which is viewed to have foreshadowing impact when it comes to death rates.
A new database, which assesses the severity of a viruses reach based on doctor-diagnosed and reported cases over a seven day period, found that the Detroit-Warren-Dearborn region ranked at a 4.5 — a 10 is the most severe. While the number falls below average, the CDC is reporting that this year the flu is widespread across the Midwest and South.
On Jan. 16, a 12-year-old Clay Township boy, Michael Messenger, died after experiencing flu-like symptoms, according to his family.
In Schell's case, the symptoms came seemingly overnight.
"Tim’s illness progressed very quickly. He became sick with influenza A and rapidly went into septic shock and organ failure. He was gone within two days of first symptoms," Bastas said, noting that her uncle hadn't gotten a flu shot this season.
A big reason for the seemingly intense flu season, according to the CDC, is the fact that there is a higher number of the Influenza A-H3N2 strain circulating this year. When this strain is relevant, the season tends to be worse, Kristen Nordlund, press officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told The Cut last week.
“We know in general those seasons tend to be more severe — especially for older adults and young children,” Nordlund said.
For the Schell family, right now is about coming to terms with an incredible loss and raising awareness.
"We want Tim to be remembered as the most loving, generous, and genuinely happy human," said Bastas, noting that her uncle's nickname was "Smiley" because he always had a gigantic smile on his face.
"He had the best, loudest laugh. Even before you saw him, you could hear him and know that he was around. He was a loving husband, son, brother, uncle, and friend," she said, adding. "We are still in shock that something as common as the flu could rob us of such an amazing person. He will be greatly missed by all who have had the pleasure of knowing him."
Contact Allie Gross: firstname.lastname@example.org