They were born on the same day, 41 years apart. Just days after contracting two different strains of the flu, a Wisconsin man and his grown daughter also died together.
Herbert Ellis, 79, of Allenton, died first on March 2 after suffering severe complications from the flu, according to WISN in Milwaukee. Alina Ellis, 38, of West Bend, died a short time later, in a room down the hall from her father in St. Luke’s Hospital in Milwaukee.
The deaths have left family and friends shocked and heartbroken. Alina Ellis’ sister, Carine Krull, told the news station that she was leaving for a trip to Mexico when her sister told her she felt unwell.
What began as the Type A flu was followed by strep throat, Krull said. The sisters’ elderly parents cared for Alina Ellis, but her health rapidly declined, and she was hospitalized after also developing pneumonia.
“She’s perfectly healthy, otherwise. No medical history, so this is scary,” Krull told WISN. “This means that this can happen to anybody.”
At the same time, Herbert Ellis developed the flu, but Type B, a different strain from the one that sickened his daughter. Krull rushed back from Mexico on March 2 to be with them.
Both died later that day, with Herbert Ellis dying from organ failure brought on by the flu. Alina Ellis died after also developing MRSA, an infection caused by a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to many antibiotics.
Though many of her organs could not be donated because of the extent of her illness, doctors were able to transplant Alina Ellis’ heart and kidneys into three people, her sister said.
A joint memorial service for father and daughter was held Saturday in West Bend.
The Ellis family is sharing their story in the hope that it will make people take the flu seriously. While Herb Ellis had obtained a flu shot because of his age, Alina Ellis had not been vaccinated this year.
“This was absolutely unexpected,” Krull told the Washington County Insider. “When I talked to them (on Feb. 28), Alina had the flu and Dad had a cough. Two days later, they’re in heaven together. I’m just blown away.”
Both Herb and Alina Ellis were well known in the Washington County education community. Herb Ellis, who in his youth served as a U.S. Army chaplain, was a retired teacher in the Hartford, Wisconsin, school district, the Insider reported.
Alina Ellis, a nanny who went by the name Hoot Nanny, ran an in-home preschool, called the Hoot House, in West Bend.
Krull said her sister and the program were beloved by parents and children alike.
There was an outpouring of love for the Hoot Nanny on social media, where parents and grandparents initially asked for prayers for the dedicated teacher’s recovery and later spoke about the impact she’d had on their children and grandchildren’s lives.
WISN reported that one of Alina Ellis’ legacies would be Owls for Owies, a program at her preschool that collected Beanie Boo owls and donated them to sick children in area hospitals. Mourners brought more than 300 of the stuffed owls to her memorial service.
Krull said she plans to keep the program going in honor of her father and sister.
“All I can do is try my best to pass along and encourage others to have compassion, love and caring,” Krull told the news station.
A YouCaring page has been established to raise money to keep Owls for Owies going. As of Wednesday morning, the crowdfunding page had raised nearly $6,000 of its $10,000 goal.