These were Nancy Pinnella’s last days: On Jan. 21, she felt sick, leaving work early. On Jan. 22, she went to a doctor, hardly able to speak or breathe. By 6 p.m. that day, she was in intensive care at Sutter General Hospital in Sacramento. Her kidneys were failing, her lung capacity severely reduced. Doctors sedated her, induced paralysis and put her on a ventilator and dialysis. Then, as quick as that night, doctors told her family she was in very, very bad shape.
The H1N1 influenza was winning the battle.
On Friday, a bright spot: her kidneys and vital signs got better. Then, between midnight and 6 a.m. Saturday, Pinnella suffered three severe strokes in three different parts of her brain. On Sunday, the family said goodbye and took the 46-year-old advertising executive at KXTV News10 off life support.
“The doctors said the strokes were catastrophic, there was no coming back,” said John Pinnella, her brother, recalling the tragic series of events.
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To Sacramento County officials, Pinnella’s death was No. 18 of the cases that help measure the severity of the flu season. To public health officials, Pinnella’s swift demise was the type of thing they’d been warning the public about: With this H1N1 virus, even young and middle-aged adults who are otherwise healthy – and didn’t think to get a flu shot – could die. To the Pinnella family, their sad loss was a rallying point to urge others to get the flu shot so Pinnella didn’t die in vain.
The day after Pinnella died, the family – including three brothers, mother and father – all went for flu shots.
Then they encouraged friends and supporters in the Bay Area, where Pinnella grew up and worked for most of her 20-year career, to go get vaccinated in her memory. Hundreds have done so, John Pinnella said. “It’s been very, very touching,” he said.
It would have been out of character for his athletic, healthy sister who once ran a marathon to get a flu shot, he said. “She was active and there wasn’t any sign of anything unhealthy,” Pinnella, 49, said. “She didn’t get the flu shot. It wasn’t uncommon of her.”
“None of us (siblings) had gotten the flu shot. The problem was, in our minds, we weren’t litttle kids and we weren’t 65 years old,” he said referring to groups thought to be most vulnerable to the flu. “And we were pretty healthy – and stubborn.”
Pinnella, who lived in east Sacramento, was a huge 49ers fan and watched the NFC Championship game with one of her brothers just days before she took ill. The next day, they took walks to a park, covering a couple of miles. The following day was the ill-fated Tuesday when she fell sick and left work early.
Doctors told the Pinnellas that Nancy Pinnella’s case of the flu developed faster than usual. “It just hit all of a sudden. Within 12 hours, she was really, really sick,” John Pinnela said.
As for symptoms, his sister did not develop a fever, he said. The flu settled in her chest, hitting her respiratory system hard. “It was very, very quick. The H1N1 is a different kind of a strain of virus in that it is very deadly.”
He described his sister as “incredibly caring, passionate about life, sports and baking.” She often would bake batches of pastries and share them with colleagues at work.
Maria Barrs is president and general manager of KXTV News10, where Pinnella started work as a national/regional account manager in May 2010. Barrs released this statement about Pinnella:
“She was a vibrant, caring person and very well-liked and respected. Her family confirms that they were informed her death was due to complications caused by the H1N1 virus. Her family also confirmed that she had not had a flu shot, and is urging everyone to take that precaution.”
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Chris Nguyen, one of her co-workers, sent out this tweet Wednesday: “Got my flu shot this morning. Latest #Sacramento Co. H1N1 was one of my #News10 colleagues. Really hits home. Stay safe, folks.”