Cindy Jett-Vittetoe

Cindy Jett-Vittetoe, a nurse at East Tennessee Medical Group who was put on life support after testing positive for the flu, stands with her sons (from left) Jackson, Jonah and Jared Jett.

The family of a nurse who is expected to make a full recovery after being put on life support due to a severe case of the flu wants to thank the community for helping the woman they say would do anything to help others.

Over the weekend of Nov. 8, Cindy Jett-Vittetoe began complaining of a headache and general discomfort, said Megan Simerly, Jett-Vittetoe’s soon-to-be daughter-in-law.

While at work as a nurse at East Tennessee Medical Group on Nov. 11, Jett-Vittetoe had herself tested for the flu. The results came back positive.

Jett-Vittetoe was surprised at this diagnosis considering she had gotten her flu shot about a month before, her son Jonah Jett said.

Jett-Vittetoe since 2007 has worked at ETMG, where employees are either required to get annual flu shots or wear protective masks from November to March, Blount Memorial Hospital spokeswoman Jennie Bounds said. BMH is affiliated with ETMG.

Flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, occurs during the fall and winter but usually peaks between December and February.

Robert Schmidt, Blount County Health Department director, confirmed there is no county-specific flu data so far this season. However, Tennessee has surpassed the CDC’s usual baseline rate for influenza-like illness.

To combat the flu, the Tennessee Department of Health holds a statewide “FightFluTN” event in which local health departments administer free flu shots.

This year’s FightFluTN event took place on Nov. 19 at the Blount County Public Library. Some 140 flu shots were administered that day, Schmidt said.

The flu shot is administered free of charge at the Blount County Health Department during flu season.

“Since we know flu activity is increasing in the state and region, it’s a good reminder to anyone who has not yet gotten a flu vaccine to do so now,” Schmidt said.

Jett-Vittetoe shares in this belief and prioritized flu prevention, her children said.

“She’s adamant about us getting (the flu shot),” said Katie Jett, Jett-Vittetoe’s daughter-in-law.

The CDC reports that although it is rare to develop the flu after getting a flu shot, it is possible. However, getting a flu shot remains the most important thing people can do to prevent getting the flu, the agency said.

Katie Jett is a nurse at Covenant Health. She said the flu has no true cure, but symptoms can be relieved, usually with Tamiflu.

But by the time Jett-Vittetoe tested positive for the flu, it had progressed too far for the symptoms to be helped with Tamiflu, said Jonah Jett, Jett-Vittetoe’s son.

For the next two days, Jett-Vittetoe had difficulty breathing, he said. By Nov. 13, this difficulty led to her mother taking her to the emergency room.

Later that day, Jett-Vittetoe was admitted to Blount Memorial Hospital with pneumonia in addition to the flu.

Most cases of the flu do not lead to pneumonia, the American Lung Association reports, but the cases that do tend to be more severe and deadly.

Jett-Vittetoe’s flu and pneumonia had worsened significantly by Nov. 14, causing her to contract life-threatening sepsis.

Later Nov. 14, she was transferred to the intensive care unit, sedated, given several antibiotics and blood-pressure medicines and placed on life support.

That night doctors performed a small surgical procedure to reduce fluid on her heart before concluding Jett-Vittetoe needed to go to a larger hospital where she could be connected to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, a life support machine that carries out the functions of the lungs and heart.

Jackson, the youngest of Jett-Vittetoe’s three boys, is a senior at Maryville High School. While his mother was in ICU, his football coaches drove him back and forth daily from Nashville, Simerly said.

Maryville High School has showed their support for Jackson Jett during Jett-Vittetoe’s hospitalization. At the Nov. 15 Maryville High School football game, students hung a sign with the words “Pray 4 Cindy” from the stands.

This slogan gave Simerly and Katie Jett the idea to come up with other ways to support Jett-Vittetoe.

While in the waiting room at Vanderbilt, Jonah and Jared Jett, as well as Jett-Vittetoe’s daughter-in-laws, decided to create a GoFundMe and T-shirts to raise money for Jett-Vittetoe’s medical bills.

Within the first night, more than 40 of the T-shirts, which have “strength, love, support, #prayforcindy,” had been sold.

“We never expected the community to care this much,” Katie Jett said. “We just want a gathering for a celebration because she’s doing so well.”

The family planned a benefit event with live music, food and a raffle. Several community donors including Home Depot and Ruby Tuesday have already contributed prizes to the raffle, Simerly said.

The event, which is free to the community, will be at East Maryville Baptist Church on Dec. 16. People also will be able to donate to Jett-Vittetoe’s medical bills at the event.

After days in the ICU, Jett-Vittetoe began improving. On Nov. 17, she could shake her head and recognize people, Jared Jett said. She was breathing without the ventilator by Nov. 18 and taken off the ECMO on Tuesday.

By Thursday, a week after being transferred to Vanderbilt, Jett-Vittetoe’s son and daughter-in-law held each of her hands and she slowly walked down the hallway.

“We walked to the end of the hall,” Simerly said. “She looked out the window and walked back. That was huge.”

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