A young woman died of pneumonia at the tragically young age of 26 – two days after she was due to get married.
Katie Kozlowska died from double pneumonia, which doctors suspected was brought on by swine flu, two days after the date she had set for her wedding.
Miss Kozlowska’s mother Jean Barker, 54, of New Whittington, Derbyshire, recalled being powerless as her fit, energetic daughter succumbed to the condition over the course of a month.
She has now written a book which she hopes will give courage and hope to other parents who have lost their children.
She said: “I kept asking the doctors, ‘why?’
“Why was she not getting any better? It didn’t seem possible that someone so young could die of pneumonia in the 21st century, but despite everything they tried, nothing worked.
“After she died I collapsed at her bedside. I was hysterical and refused to let her go.”
Miss Kozlowska was rushed to intensive care in January 2011 just weeks after she became engaged to be married.
Miss Barker, a holistic therapist, said: “At school Katie was very popular. She was always the girl who the others wanted to hang around with. She’d always been very energetic and intelligent, and kept herself fit.
“From a young age she was very active – a real wildfire, and very happy. She was always giggling. She played the guitar and mastered the keyboard and attended dancing lessons, which she excelled at. She reached a blackbelt in tae-kwon-do
“When she told us she was getting married after a year of being with her partner, I was over the moon. I liked her fiance very much.
“When they both came to see us just before Christmas, she was doing very well. The business she was helping to run was becoming quite successful.”
During the visit Miss Barker continued to help her daughter plan for her wedding which was planned for January 26th.
Miss Barker said: “We’d ordered her wedding dress, a beautiful Italian design with gems on the edging. I was getting ready to do her flowers – she loved tulips – and her wedding cake.
“The bridesmaids were going to wear a deep purple. Katie had been to see and booked the venue and the invitations were just about to go out.”
But as the visit wore on, Miss Barker became concerned about her daughter’s health.
She said: “She was coughing and spluttering – she looked shocking. She told me she had been to see a doctor who told her she simply had flu.
“I sent her off to bed, and she rested all day. When I brought her a cup of tea in the evening she was burning up, and shivering. She was extremely pale. She didn’t seem herself at all.
“I asked Katie to stay with me for a few days but she decided to back to her home, more than an hour away, on the understanding she would go back to the doctor if she got any worse.”
Shortly after Christmas Miss Barker received a phone call informing her that her daughter had been taken from her home in Rayleigh, Essex, to intensive care at Southend University Hospital.
Miss Barker said: “By the time we arrived, she was on oxygen in the high-dependency unit with suspected swine flu. They tried physiotherapy to shift the blockage in her lungs, but they couldn’t get to the point where she could be taken off oxygen.
“She developed double pneumonia and was weakening rapidly. Things were piling on top of her. Her body was so weak that she couldn’t fight the infection, so they put her into a controlled coma.
“She contracted acute respiratory distress syndrome – holes had developed in her lungs which couldn’t be repaired. She started fighting for her life as her organs began shutting down.
“I couldn’t understand what was going on. Each time I asked what was happening, I was told they were trying everything they could think of to stabilise her.”
The wedding was postponed as Miss Barker and her younger daughter Claire Barker, 26, prayed that she would pull through.
But just after dawn on January 28th 2011 Miss Barker was told she needed to get to the hospital urgently.
She said: “By the time I arrived shortly after 8.30am, Katie had already passed away.
“I collapsed onto the floor. I refused to let her go. I didn’t want to leave her side.”
The death certificate recorded the cause of death as pneumonia. Doctors later told the family that the suspected swine flu had weakened her, making her vulnerable to lung infections.
Miss Barker now faced the heartbreaking task of preparing for her daughter’s funeral.
She said: “I told myself I could do the flowers. I was ready to do it for the wedding. Just weeks earlier I was talking to her about her wedding day. Now I found myself thinking about her funeral. It seemed so unfair.
“In the end, I couldn’t do the flowers because I was too upset. The tulips she loved so much ended up being put on top of her coffin.
“We held a memorial service in Derbyshire for all her school friends who couldn’t attend her funeral.
“Hundreds of people were there – including former teachers. I knew that Katie was popular but I hadn’t appreciated quite what she meant to people.”
In the three years since losing her daughter Miss Barker, who was put on a course of antidepressants and received therapy, has found comfort in her bereavement by writing down her experiences for her book, entitled “The Angel Whispered”.
She said: “I had Katie’s ashes interred in her godfather’s grave after the funeral. I couldn’t bare the thought of her being on her own. I’ve put a plaque up, and it’s helpful to have a place to go where I know she is.
“I just carried myself along for a long time after she died. It was incredibly hard. I can’t stand it when the year rolls around to January. It’s always very difficult to get reminders of that time.
“I’ll always carry the pain with me, but by setting my thoughts down on the page it’s given me a chance to process what’s happened. Whenever I felt angry or upset, it was a way of getting through it.
“I can talk about it now without crying, and that’s a step forward.”
To read Miss Barker’s book search for “The Angel Whispered” on Amazon.
More pictures are available on request. To discuss rates for using pictures and copy, contact news editor Tom Knight on 07815 004413 or firstname.lastname@example.org.