Big Island family mourns loss of mother, Hawaii's third swine flu death

Donna Altamirano
Donna Altamirano

By Duncan Armstrong

KONA (KHNL) - Hawaii suffers its third swine flu death, this time a mother on the Big Island.

Since swine flu was first detected in Hawaii two months ago, hundreds have been infected but got better.

But three people have died from the disease. And with the latest death, a grieving family shares their pain and deadly serious message.

On June 11 the World Health Organization raised the pandemic health alert to Level Phase 6, which is the highest.

Right now, more than 70 countries and all the Hawaiian islands have the virus. For most people, the H1N1 virus recovery takes time, but for some, they never recover at all.

"I don't want people to experience what we did. My mom was 51 years young," said Ku'ulei Altamirano.

On July 7, Ku'ulei's mother, Donna Altamirano, died of the H1N1 flu at Kona Community Hospital, becoming the state's third swine flu death.

Altamirano was home for three days thinking she had the regular flu, but was hospitalized when she had a hard time breathing.

"My mother didn't want to go to the hospital. Obviously no one likes to go," said Ku'ulei.

Donna thought her illness would pass.

"It's very hard to watch your loved ones go through this and you can't do anything about it," said Ku'ulei.

The family didn't know what to do. Their lack of knowledge of the virus left the family feeling helpless.

"We didn't think the swine would affect my family especially my mother. My mother was one to tell my sister to go to the doctor and check to see if she had swine flu, while we just laughed it off. This is something that you wouldn't wish upon anyone," said Ku'ulei.

There have been more than 1,000 cases reported in the islands since May. Nationwide, there have been more than 40,000 cases, and 263 people have died.

"The one person who took this seriously which was my mother, is the one that suffered. My mother would want me to let people know don't take life for granted," said Ku'ulei.

Given the ongoing novel H1N1 activity, the Centers for Disease Control anticipates there will be more cases, more hospitalizations, and more deaths associated with this pandemic over the summer and into the fall and winter.