Their 17-year-old grandson died of COVID-19. Now a couple from Cleveland are urging teens to get vaccinated Health
Their 17-year-old grandson died of COVID-19.  Now a couple from Cleveland are urging teens to get vaccinated  Health

Their 17-year-old grandson died of COVID-19. Now a couple from Cleveland are urging teens to get vaccinated Health

Kennedy Stonum had just turned 17, had obtained her driver’s license and was looking forward to a life full of opportunities when her life was tragically shortened on 11 February 2022.

Stonum died of serious complications of COVID-19. She had no underlying health conditions, but she was not vaccinated.

“It was absolutely the worst that could happen,” said her grandmother, Marilyn Shea-Stonum, a retired federal bankruptcy judge and resident of Bratenahl.

Stonums had strongly urged Kennedy, who lived in Southern California, to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Eventually, she decided not to.

“I actually begged her. It’s probably not the right tone to take, but what do you do? And she politely said, ‘I want to think about it. But her circle of friends was largely unvaccinated,'” Shea-Stonum said.

Kennedy Stonum (right) dances to his father’s wedding in 2013. [Anna Huntsman / Ideastream Public Media]

In their spacious, sunny living room one afternoon, Shea-Stonum and her husband Gary flipped through photo albums of Kennedy, who was their only grandchild.

In one photo, she is dancing fearlessly at her father’s wedding. In others, she is adventurous outdoors, cycling and kayaking with her grandfather.

“Kennedy was exuberant,” Shea-Stonum said.

Marilyn Shea-Stonum

Marilyn Shea-Stonum looks at a picture of Kennedy holding rings up at her father’s wedding. [Anna Huntsman / Ideastream Public Media]

The family regrets that they did not push harder for Kennedy to be vaccinated

Kennedy was not feeling well and went to the emergency room in late January, Stonum said. She tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized when her body was in distress, she said.

She then developed what doctors believe was hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, also known as HLH, a rare immune system disease which can come secondarily to a viral infection like COVID-19, she said.

The disease attacked her immune system and she also suffered several infections, said Kennedy’s father, Lee Stonum.

“They did a CT scan early in the morning on the 11thth and identified a major cerebral hemorrhage and told us she would not survive it and we had to take her from life support on the shortly after noon. “She survived pretty much immediately after she was taken off,” Stonum said.

Stonum graduated from Cleveland Heights High School and now works as a defense attorney in Southern California.

Stonum and his parents hope their tragic story reaches other teens and parents who are on the fence about getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I just want to say – hey, kids, do not do this to your grandparents,” Shea-Stonum said.

“We just want it so no one has to feel that way. No one else,” Gary Stonum added.

Stonum in California cried when he talked about his daughter. She had many friends, played football most of her life and was involved in a church group, he said.

“One of the hardest things about this is just ‘what if’, because her life could have gone a million different directions and we’ll never know which one it was,” Stonum said. “She was really smart, especially from a social point of view. She understood people and understood how to talk to people.”

Lee and Kennedy Stonum

Lee and Kennedy took this picture on her 16th birthday. [Lee Stonum]

Stonum had urged her daughter to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but she was worried about possible long-term effects. She had no underlying health conditions and thought she would get a mild case if she was affected by the virus, he added.

The vaccines have been considered safe and effective for children ages 5 and up, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Stonum had also assumed she did not want a serious case but wanted her to get the vaccine for safety, he said.

“I had seen stories like this where apparently healthy children had drastic and tragic consequences of the virus. I certainly never thought it would be me,” Stonum said.

Stonum understands that teens may not think it is necessary to get the shot, but looking back now, he said parents should insist their children be vaccinated.

“It’s the first task for a parent to protect their child and keep them safe. That’s what the vaccine does, it keeps your children safe,” Stonum said.

“If there were good reasons not to get the vaccine, then you can start talking about ‘how rare serious complications from COVID are’ and you can start weighing those things. But there are no good reasons not to get the vaccine. It’s just not there, “he added.

Although the risk of death is lower for teens, doctors still recommend that they be vaccinated

Compared to other age groups, children are under 18 years old most vaccinated across the country, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They also report the lowest death rates. still, at least 1,000 children in the United States is the death of COVID-19 or serious complications it can cause, according to the CDC.

Pediatric COVID admissions increased during the recent omicron rise.

Lee and Kennedy Stonum

Lee holds Kennedy as an infant. [Lee Stonum]

American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young people be vaccinated to reduce their risk of serious illness and death.

Doctors are particularly concerned about multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-Ca disease that can develop in children several weeks after a COVID-19 infection and is occasionally life-threatening.

The Bratenahls visit their son and grandson in California several times a year. The last time they saw Kennedy in person was over the Christmas holidays in 2021.

Kennedy lived with her mother – Stonum’s ex-wife – about half an hour away from her father, but she visited him and his stepmother often while they worked from home during the pandemic.

“I am really grateful for these times and memories, and for having a chance to really reconnect and bond and know that we loved each other; know we would always be there for each other, ”Stonum said.

A celebration of Kennedy’s life will take place in California in the coming weeks, Stonum said. The family hopes to plant a tree in Kennedy’s memory in a park near her house in California.

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