Swine flu claims life of woman from Bend

Dawn Peck, 34, is believed to have contracted disease while recovering from marrow transplant at OHSU

By Lauren Dake / The Bulletin

Andy Peck knew his wife’s battle against leukemia could be life-threatening. But he never expected the 34-year-old would die of swine flu while recovering from a bone marrow transplant at Oregon Health & Science University.

Dawn Peck, a mother of three, died Friday at around 2 a.m. She is the first person from Central Oregon to die from swine flu, according to Shannon Dames with the Deschutes County Health Department.

She made it through the bone marrow transplant. But then Dawn Peck started coughing. Her left lung collapsed. Part of her right lung followed. She was moved to the intensive care unit.

By the time hospital officials discovered it was swine flu, it was too late.

Dawn Peck never found out what was making it so difficult for her to breathe.

“It went so fast. From ‘We have swine flu’ to passing away the next day,” Andy Peck said. “We didn’t really have time to process.

“We never thought this would happen. It was rough, really rough.”

Dames confirmed that Dawn Peck passed away while at OHSU in Portland from swine flu. “Swine flu mixed with underlying chronic conditions or other medical conditions such as this person had can increase the mortality rate,” Dames said. “That’s why, yes, swine flu put this particular patient over the top in terms of what her immune system could handle.”

Given the timing, Dames said, it seems likely that Dawn Peck caught swine flu while at the hospital. Liana Haywood, a spokeswoman with OHSU, could not comment on the specifics of Peck’s case due to confidentiality laws. She did confirm that Peck died while at OHSU.

Haywood said all swine flu patients at the hospital are isolated from the other patients, sanitizing stations are set up throughout the hospital and large signs encourage people to take precautions for swine flu.

“I don’t know the exact circumstances of this patient’s care,” she said. “But we take the health of our patients seriously, and we certainly want to make sure they are healthy and safe while they are here.”

Haywood said she could not say if anyone else had ever caught swine flu while at the hospital. “With a compromised immune system, patients are very susceptible to any kind of illness, (be it) a cold (or) be it swine flu,” Haywood said. “I don’t think it’s highly unusual for a patient with a bone marrow transplant to get sick after. That’s why they are in the hospital, and there are so many precautions taken when visiting them.”

Andy Peck said his wife had about 20 visitors during her approximate monthlong stay at the hospital. Plus, there were all the doctors. “It’s a university, so there were teams of doctors, for internal medicine, infectious disease ... each of them had a team,” he said. “The room was rarely empty.”

Andy Peck said everyone — doctors, visitors — washed their hands before seeing Dawn Peck. Neither employees nor hospital officials are tested for the flu before visiting patients, according to Haywood.

Swine flu is spread person-to-person in a similar fashion as seasonal influenza, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.

“If all health care practitioners and visitors had perfect hygiene, that would be great,” Dames said. “The reality is, as much as health care workers try, there is bacteria and viruses that circulate more than we would like,” she said.

Dames said someone could have touched Dawn Peck’s hospital bed rail. Then she could have touched it and, say, rubbed her eye.

“One of the things people can do so they don’t feel like a victim in their environment ... is to remember that (it starts) when saliva from a shared surface gets in the nose, eyes, mouth.

“If you (do) not touch those areas, you’re not introducing (the virus). ... You do have control over what is getting into your body,” Dames said. “In the hospital, I know, you’re sick and that’s the last think you’re thinking about, is how it’s possible to prevent infection.”

In the last days of Dawn Peck’s life, her husband knew she was fighting. He agreed to share her story, he said, because maybe somewhere, somehow, it will help someone else.

Maybe, he said, they could have tested her earlier. Maybe, they will test the next person earlier. He doesn’t place blame. The doctors were caring, hard-working. They did everything they could, he said.

“If this could help other people be aware ...,” he said. “It would have been terrible not to visit her, but if that would have saved her ...”

Dawn De Ann Peck was born in Castro Valley, Calif., and grew up in Springfield. She has a daughter, Kaiyah, 19, and two sons, Koltin, 15, and Kadin, 10.

She never liked to leave the house until she was looking good, put together, her husband said. “She was beautiful,” Andy Peck said.

Initially when meeting her, she might have seemed reserved, a little shy, but after a while, she opened up. Both her sons described her as caring and supportive.

She was diagnosed with leukemia in March. Like her husband, Dawn Peck had faith she would survive. Shortly before heading to OHSU, she wrote in her blog:

“I can just feel the prayers all around me and it’s amazing! It means the world to me.

“I honestly feel that God has brought this into my life for a reason, to open my eyes, I know he (is) going to perform a miracle in my body, and take care of this for me ...

“I am asking him everyday to build my faith ... He knows I am a young woman, mom and wife ... and have a lot to live for, and that there are a lot of wonderful things he has in store for me to do on earth.”

For Andy Peck, it was hard returning to Bend, seeing her car.

He’s afraid the family will lose its house, having recently filed bankruptcy after taking time off work to be with his wife. But he will stay in Bend, to mourn, to grieve, to let his children stay in the school they are used to.

On a piece of paper, preparing for Dawn Peck’s obituary, a few notes were jotted down by family members.

One of them gives her favorite quote: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away.”