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NY Teen Becomes Advocate For Flu Shots After Nearly Dying From Illness

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Flu season is just starting, which is when we tell viewers to get their flu shot.

It's also when we tell people how many patients end up in the hospital or die of flu complications.

Statistics can be very impersonal. We forget that behind every flu number is a real person and a family that is deeply affected.

Dr. Max Gomez spoke to a young honors student who didn't get her flu shot because she didn't want to miss school. That almost cost her her life.

Monday, Rebecca Berak and her mom, Kathie Berak, met the doctors, nurses and techs who helped save Rebecca's life.

It was just a few months ago that doctors were telling Kathie Berak that her daughter may die.

"They were preparing us for the worst. At one point, I was even told that I might want to consider arrangements," she said.

Rebecca doesn't remember much other than feeling achy in school one day last December.

"By the end of the day, I remember I was lying in my bed and I was like, it hurt to move," she said.

Within hours, Rebecca's fever went to 106 and then she got worse.

"She started coughing up thick blood," Kathie Berak said.

Doctors at a local hospital in Poughkeepsie, where they're from, decided to transport Rebecca to Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at the Westchester Medical Center.

On the ambulance ride down from Poughkeepsie, again, Rebecca got worse.

"She wasn't stable, and she had to be resuscitated a couple of times," Kathie Berak said.

Dr. Sheila Nolan, the chief of infectious diseases at Maria Fareri, said Rebecca was near death when she arrived.

"She was on a ventilator to help her breathe. She required medications to keep her heart and blood pressure functioning," Nolan said. "She was in what we would call severe septic shock."

It was touch-and-go for six weeks, then Rebecca needed weeks of rehab at Blythedale Children's Hospital to regain strength and stamina to walk again.

Now, she's just about back to normal, except for the tracheostomy scar on her throat.

Rebecca and her mom have become advocates for flu shots, and Rebecca says she's actually glad this happened to her.

"It's all just like a big lesson. Kind of like, appreciate what you have, and like, I'm alive," she said.

She actually had a necrotizing bacterial super-infection on top of her flu that scarred her lungs, so she has some permanent lung damage, but she should be able to lead a full, normal life otherwise.

Lesson learned: even normal, healthy kids like Rebecca can die from the flu. Get your flu shot.

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