Miami woman encouraging others to get flu vaccine after her daughter dies from the illness

Kayauna Zabel was 20 years old and an educator at Park Elementary in Columbus.

COLUMBUS, Kan. – A Columbus, Kansas educator is dead, and doctors believe the flu is to blame.

“You just don’t hear about people dying from the flu very often. Especially a 20 year old,” says Miami, Oklahoma resident Charity Freeman.

When 20-year-old Kayauna Zabel went to the emergency room for the flu on February 7th, Freeman never thought it would be one of the last times she’d see her daughter alive.

“You think you just have to ride it out. You know when. You know, just drink fluids and sleep and rest and you’ll get better,” says Freeman.

Kayauna received medication at the emergency room, but she wasn’t doing any better.

So she was taken to the emergency room in Joplin the next day. That’s when she would be diagnosed with Influenza B, which was causing pneumonia and sepsis.

“She started coughing up blood. We knew it was very serious. They just kept saying that she was a very sick girl. By the next morning though, the doctors were saying that her organs were failing,” says Freeman.

Doctors tried to get her to a hospital in Tulsa to be put on an ECMO machine that could take over for her heart and lungs. But Kayauna died at the hospital in Joplin on Sunday (2/9/20) before she could get transported.

Kayauna grew up in Miami and went to Wyandotte High School.

She had just gotten married in July of 2019, lived in Miami, and was in her first year working with special needs students as a paraprofessional at Park Elementary in Columbus, Kansas.

“Our entire staff and the students were upset and grieving over her loss cause she was such a nice person,” says Columbus Superintendent Brian Smith.

And that’s how Freeman hopes her daughter will be remembered. As a devoted educator, and wonderful daughter.

“She was a very special person. You know? She was amazing. Just bubbly, friendly, had lots of friends, outgoing. So there’s a lot, a lot of amazing things about her.”

But Freeman’s grieving period for Kayauna was cut short after one of her sons and Kayauna’s husband were hospitalized by the same strain of the flu.

Freeman says Kayauna’s husband Preston has double pneumonia but is doing alright otherwise.

Her son Josiah though is at the KU Medical Center in stable, but critical, condition on an ECMO machine.

“We’re just gonna have to take it hour by hour to see how it goes,” says Freeman.

Now, after having to watch her daughter die and her son fight for his life in the ICU, Freeman is encouraging others to get the flu vaccine.

“I know that a lot of people will say that they don’t think it’s necessary or they don’t think it’s important. But even if you do end up getting the flu after you’ve had the vaccine, it’s not gonna be as bad,” says Freeman.

The Columbus School District has canceled classes until Monday (2/16) so they can clean and sanitize the buildings and buses.

The superintendent says it’s a precautionary measure, as they haven’t had any other teachers or students get sick.

According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, there’s been 21 flu-related deaths in the state this season, as of February 1st.

In Kansas, there’s been 48 as of February 8th.

And in Oklahoma, there’s been 30 as of the 8th.

If you want to know the best ways to protect yourself and your family from the flu, tips by the CDC can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/prevention.htm