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Young girl left blind after flu

Jade Delecia
Jade Delecia (CNN)

A 4-year-old Iowa girl is recovering from a life-threatening case of the flu, but the illness blinded her, and doctors say it could be permanent.

The day before Christmas Jade Delecia had to be transported via LifeFlight to the Children's Hospital at the University of Iowa.

"I didn't think I was going to see her again,” Amanda Phillips, Jade's mom, said. “At that point, I really didn't."

Jade had the flu, a strain called influenza B. It's spreading quickly across the country, which is highly unusual for this time of year. Experts say the most vulnerable to it are children.

In the pediatric intensive care unit, Jade was unresponsive, a ventilator breathing for her.

"Influenza B is activating her own immune system, to start attacking her own organs, specifically the brain and causing brain swelling," Dr. Aditya Badheka, of University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital, said.

After nearly two weeks, Jade finally woke up. Then doctors noticed Jade couldn’t see. The flu caused inflammation in her brain. She may be permanently blind.

Her parents know Jade still has a long way to go in her recovery, and they're stunned by what the flu can do to a healthy child.

Jade went home from the hospital on January 9. Her mom says both Jade and her sister received a flu shot last March. She thought that shot was good for an entire year. She didn't realize she needed to get the girls vaccinated again for the new 2019-2020 flu season. Since the flu virus changes year to year, the vaccine also changes.

Flu vaccines become available at the end of the summer, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting one by the end of October to protect against flu in the upcoming winter.