Jeffrey Kane, a longtime resident and Gunn High School graduate, contracted the illness on Dec. 27. He died on Jan. 29 after a long battle against its complications, his widow, Molly Kane, told the Weekly.
The Kanes and their 11-year-old daughter were all sickened by the flu at the same time. He developed pneumonia and spent more than three weeks in the hospital and a rehabilitation facility, she said.
This year's flu has killed 14 people in Santa Clara County and six in San Mateo County so far, according to county public-health officials. It has hit younger and middle-aged persons particularly hard, since they likely are too young to have built immunity from the last swine-flu epidemic, officials have said. The total number of California deaths from the swine flu is unknown, as state law only requires medical professionals to report deaths in persons ages 17 to 65.
Molly Kane said she wants the public to know how dangerous H1N1 can be.
"Oh my god, this was unlike any flu I've ever had. Just the phlegm I was coughing up. It was so thick, and you couldn't really bring it up, and you couldn't breathe if you couldn't bring it up. It was hell — it was really hell," she said.
That feature — a thick, green mucus that is hard to cough up — is what set the H1N1 flu apart from others, she said. Anyone who experiences such symptoms should see a doctor immediately.
Jeffrey Kane also had the flu, and it developed into pneumonia, during the 2012-13 flu season. He was underweight at the time he caught this year's flu, she said.
The family did not get flu shots this year, she added. Although he was ill, he did not immediately go to the doctor because the family did not have much money, and he didn't want to incur a higher insurance deductible, she said.
Instead, he thought he could ride it out as he always had.
"We miss him. He didn't have to die. If he had gotten his flu vaccine and we had seen a doctor immediately, he would not have died. He was trying to save us that cost, and he paid for it," Molly Kane said.
As she and her family try to pull together their lives after this sudden loss at the hands of a microbe, Molly Kane said she wants the word to spread about taking precautions against this disease and its power to kill.
She and her daughter are safeguarding their health by applying for insurance under the Affordable Care Act — aka, ObamaCare.
"It will really make a difference," she said.
Jeffrey Kane's sister, Linda Kane, said she is left with the memories of a brother she deeply loved. She did not want to focus on the what-ifs. Her brother was a private person, and she said she wants to honor his memory. When she posted an obituary for her brother on Palo Alto Online's Lasting Memories, the words did not come easily. She decided to mention that he died from H1N1, she said.
"At first I thought, 'It's nobody's business that he got sick and died,'" she said. But the flu's impact, and lingering questions that people who knew him would have, made her decide to write about H1N1, she said.
"People are sitting and watching TV and a reporter will say, 'There's been another flu death in Santa Clara County,'" she said.
But revealing that her brother died of the illness "makes it personal." Dying from the flu is not abstract, she said, adding that the loss of her only, younger brother is raw and real.
"He was my brother — the person you sat with in your pajamas on a rainy day; or the person you played cards with or ganged up with on your parents. I remember when he fell asleep on my lap in my arms.
"You may have seen him on the street or in the grocery store two weeks ago, and now he is gone. There's a ripple effect. This person had parents and cousins, and his cousins were a big deal to him. It is about the person and not about the thing that killed them," she said.
The good memories are helping her through the grief, she added.
"I don't think I have any special skills to get me through. Losing a sibling — losing your only sibling — it's very hard. Now I'm an only child," she said.