Girl who died after flu diagnosis 'loved to help people,' her family says

Max Londberg
Girl who died after flu diagnosis 'loved to help people,' her family says

CINCINNATI – Days before she died, 10-year-old Sable Gibson admired pink highlights in her hair and later jammed to a remix of a song with the lyric "I was busy thinking 'bout boys" with a friend.

Except, in this rendition, "boys" had been replaced with "ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba ..."

They recorded the spasmodic dance moves, heads bobbing and arms flapping to the fast-paced song. Sable later shared the video with her parents. Her friend's mother was driving them home from Columbus, Ohio, where they had visited the Center of Science and Industry. Sable didn't yet have a career preference, but she loved reading and math. 

The next day, Sable fell ill. Three days later, she suffered cardiac arrest caused by flu, her parents said last week inside the church that was the site of their daughter's funeral.

Scott and Holly Gibson, Sable's parents, described their daughter as compassionate, self-assured, sometimes silly.

Scott and Holly Gibson, Sable's parents, described the days leading up to their daughter's death. Sable's siblings, 17-year-old Sailor and 12-year-old Crew, recalled fond memories they treasure with their sister. Sable Gibson was 10 years old when she died from complications stemming from the flu, her family says. She's remembered as a compassionate girl. "She was making videos one day and the next day she's dead," said her father, Scott Gibson.

"She was making videos one day, and the next day she's dead," said Scott Gibson on March 12. Some days, he lets himself imagine his fourth-grader at Western Row Elementary will hop off the school bus and return home to him.

Holly Gibson, flanked by her husband and two of Sable's five siblings, often encouraged Sable to "wear her best for Jesus" before trips to church. Holly Gibson talked about her daughter while wearing two necklaces: one with Sable's name engraved on angel wings, the other a locket with a photo of the two of them.

Holly and Sable's fashion senses diverged.

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Her daughter sometimes wore the same sweatshirt several days in a row. She assured her mother that "Jesus loves leggings."

"She was very secure," her mother said. 

She rarely had been sick. Her pediatrician told her parents that, other than regular checkups, he'd only ever seen Sable for two ear infections in infancy.

The day after symptoms arose, Sable and her mother went to The Little Clinic, where Sable was prescribed ibuprofen. 

Two days later, Sable was still sick, so the family visited their pediatrician. Afterward, Holly didn't leave her daughter's side.

At their Mason, Ohio, home, they sat together and Holly ran her hands through her daughter's sweaty hair. When she touched Sable's skin, she was horrified to find it was cold. Holly performed CPR until she became physically ill, at which point Sable's teen brother took over.

Sable was rushed to a satellite campus of Cincinnati Children's Hospital, but then was airlifted to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

Sable's brain had lost too much oxygen, doctors told the family.

She died Feb. 20, a Wednesday, less than a week after her trip to Columbus and the science center.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an average of about 113 children have died of the flu over the last four flu seasons. About four in five deaths were suffered by children who hadn't received a flu vaccination.

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"A flu shot is important because even if it doesn’t entirely prevent influenza, it can lessen the severity of illness," said Jim Feuer, a spokesman for Cincinnati Children's. "Vaccination for flu has been shown to prevent potential severe outcomes like (intensive care unit) admission and death."

Sable's family did not wish to share whether she received a flu shot before her death.

Gustavo Ferrer, a Florida-based doctor who leads a pulmonary training program at Aventura Hospital there, said flu-shot effectiveness can range from 40 to 90 percent.

But in years with a low effective rate, "even then it has incredible value because a large number of people will be protected from the most aggressive (flu strain)."

Ferrer said the following red flags in children with the flu should prompt a trip to an emergency department.

  • Fever persisting for more than 48 hours
  • Coughing that produces a yellow or green mucus, or diarrhea in young children
  • No or low appetite, possibly signaling dehydration
  • Persistent cough

The Gibsons have relied on the kindness of others in their mourning. Thousands attended Sable's funeral, and about $25,000 was raised in her name.

Holly and Scott Gibson have chosen to donate the money to Joshua's Place, a nonprofit program founded by their Rivers Crossing Community Church. Paul Taylor, a church pastor, said Joshua's Place provides about 60,000 meals a year to low-income individuals, among other services.

"We knew our daughter loved to help people," Holly said, "and this will continue to help people for, hopefully, years."

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This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Girl who died after flu diagnosis 'loved to help people,' her family says