Swine flu: A tale of two local survivors

Reasons for serious case remain unclear

John Boudrot lost the month of September.

For several weeks, the Lilburn businessman lay in a medically induced coma in the intensive care unit at DeKalb Medical Center.

“I’m 51 years old, I’ve never really been sick a day in my life,” Boudrot said. “This was the big one. Thank God, I made it through this.”

Boudrot is one of swine flu’s startling mysteries. Before he contracted the disease, Boudrot led a healthy and active lifestyle. He ran his own business, played golf, didn’t smoke and only drank socially. Other than a bout with pneumonia 15 years ago, he didn’t have any underlying medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart problems.

People with those conditions, pregnant women and the young are among groups at the greatest risk of developing serious complications from H1N1, according to federal health officials.

But Boudrot, who doesn’t fall in any of those categories, baffled his doctors. So why did swine flu knock him off his feet?

Dr. Robin Dretler, an infectious disease specialist who treated Boudrot, said he arrived in intensive care “really in trouble.”

Dretler and other physicians in his practice have treated several influenza and swine flu patients. One thing he noticed was that most of them may feel bad for a few days but then generally got better. A few patients, such as Boudrot, kept getting worse. “They never seemed to get control of it.”

Particularly worrisome was that Boudrot began coughing up a blood-tinged froth.

“I looked at that and said, ‘We’re in trouble,’ “ Dretler said. He remembered reading about that symptom appearing during the 1918 flu pandemic, commonly known as the Spanish flu, which infected more than a third of the world’s population at the time and may have killed as many as 100 million people.

Boudrot said he lost about 40 pounds while in the hospital and now must go through physical therapy two times a week to regain the strength and stamina that he lost. Although he is using a walker to get around, his outlook is positive.

“This is not work, this is freedom,” he said right before one session.

“How many times can you watch some of those stupid reality shows?”

Boudrot suffered organ failure, was placed on a ventilator and at one time his family was told he had a 10 percent chance of making it through the night. The prognosis was so grim, the family brought in a priest (Boudrot is Catholic, and his wife of 27 years, Renee, is Jewish.), a rabbi and a Baptist minister who was a family friend.

Renee Boudrot said her husband started feeling ill after returning from a weekend trip to the Georgia mountains. She came down with flulike symptoms as well, but she recovered quickly.

John Boudrot, however, didn’t get any better. He received antibiotics from his doctor’s office, but the symptoms seemed to get worse. Soon, he was running a temperature of 103 and was experiencing dizziness and nausea.

“I had never seen him that sick,” she recalled.

Dretler received the Food and Drug Administration’s approval to treat Boudrot with an experimental drug called Peramivir, which is in Phase 3 clinical trials in the United States. He credits that drug with helping Boudrot turn the corner to wellness.

Boudrot, who hadn’t taken a flu shot in several years, said he left the hospital an advocate for the swine flu vaccine. Once home, he e-mailed or called all his relatives, friends and business associates to get “that gosh darn flu shot.”

Although Boudrot and Dretler both suggest people get the swine flu vaccine, many Americans may opt not to. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that nearly four in 10 parents do not plan to have their children vaccinated, with many citing safety concerns as a reason.

But Dretler believes the vaccine is safe.

“There’s not a single responsible medical authority who says otherwise,” Dretler said.

And Boudrot said:

“You can’t imagine what it is like to miss a month of your life.”