This week, the state of Colorado suffered its second pediatric flu death of the season. The first, in January, was a school-aged child outside the Denver metro area. The second, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, was a 4-year-old boy from Pueblo.
Now, just days after his death, questions are swirling about whether more could have been done to save him amid reports that his mother followed misguided advice from members of an online anti-vaccine group.
Four-year-old Najee's mother told CBS affiliate KKTV that her son was a vibrant boy who always made people laugh.
"He was the light of everybody's day," she said. "He's full of joy, full of energy, has the most beautiful smile with his super deep dimples."
In early February, two of Najee's brothers tested positive for influenza. And according to a GoFundMe set up by the family, Najee's mother took his 10-month-old brother to the emergency room with a fever of 104 degrees. Upon their return home, she gave the boys baths and sent 4-year-old Najee and his 5-year-old brother to their room to put on pajamas.
Minutes later, the 5-year-old came out and told his mother that "Junior," as Najee's family affectionately called him, was asleep. His mother then discovered him lying on the floor, pale, where he had apparently suffered a febrile seizure as a result of a flu-related fever.
She called 911 and started CPR. Najee was eventually airlifted to a hospital in Colorado Springs. According to the family's GoFundMe, Najee was taken off life support on Wednesday.
Now, screenshots from an anti-vax Facebook group called "Stop Mandatory Vaccination" are circulating online, and they appear to show that the week before Najee died, his mother sought advice on how to treat her sons' illness. Members of the group advised giving the boys vitamins, botanicals, and fruits and vegetables rather than the Tamiflu that their doctor prescribed.
In the thread, which has now apparently been scrubbed from the group's Facebook page, the mom wrote, "The doc prescribed tamaflu [sic] I did not pick it up." One user advises, "You're better off taking Vitamin D and C, Elderberry, Zinc, and eating lots of fruits and vegetables."
"Ok perfect I'll try that," she responds.
Later in the conversation, which can still be viewed in screenshots published by the Colorado Times Recorder, the panicked mother notes that she has been using the elderberry, peppermint oil and Vitamin C that the group members recommended, but her sons' fevers are still not breaking.
"Any other tips I'm terrified for another seizure," she writes. "Please no hard comments I am a momma freaking out all alone in this with a family who believes in none natural ways so I'm going through alone and they are making me feel bad for not putting him on Tamiflu."
"Boil thyme on the stove," a group member chimes in. "Vit C until diarrhea."
The group, which has more than 178,000 members and 10,000 posts in the last 30 days alone, is run by a self-proclaimed "advocate for natural living" named Larry Cook, whose website slogan is, "Vaccines don't save lives, healthy immune systems do!"
The family did not want to comment to KKTV about whether Najee had, but the mother mentioned in the Facebook exchange that two of her other sick children had not. Research has shown that most children who had not been vaccinated.
After news of Najee's death broke, Cook took to his Facebook group to put the blame on Children's Hospital Colorado Springs for the tragic outcome.
"Mom says they were treated poorly by the hospital, and of course, never offered any real treatments that would have likely cured her boy," he wrote.
"EXACTLY!!" one of the group's members responded. "You just have to nourish the body which hospitals do not do. They just poison."
The question rippling through social media today, however, is whether the true poison in this case was the misguided advice offered to a very sick boy's mother.
"I'm hurting so bad right now and so is his dad and brothers," Najee's mother told KKTV 11 News on Thursday. "Our whole family is hurting and it feels like we failed him because we did what we had to do."