Family of 4-year-old flu victim ‘heartbroken’ as another son, age 5, battles flu

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – The parents of Ohio’s first pediatric flu death victim are speaking out, following the loss of their young son.

Valerie and Richard Rieben say their 4-year-old son Jonah’s passing was unexpected and his health declined rapidly.

They say Jonah was the youngest of 17 siblings – 14 of whom were adopted.

“I can tell you that one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever had to do was tell my other children on Saturday morning that their little brother wasn’t coming home,” Valerie Rieben said. “It was absolutely heartbreaking.”

More heartbreak, still, as Jonah’s older brother Nikolai is also in the hospital battling the flu.

“It’s been a bit of a traumatic experience,” Valerie Rieben said. “Having watched Jonah decline so rapidly. both of our boys have complex medical conditions. Nikolai, our 5 year old who is currently in the PICU, especially. Any kind of illness can really take him down fast.”

The Riebens said Jonah and Nikolai were adopted from Bulgaria and have genetic illness.

Young Jonah had Noonan Syndrome and problems with his heart. His battle with the flu was made worse, they say, by his underlying medical conditions.

“For a while, we belonged to unique groups,” Richard Rieben said. “We belong to the special needs parents group, we belong to the big family group. The group I didn’t think I was ready to join was the group that has lost a young child. So learning to be part of that group is going to be a significant challenge.”

Already considered a “medically fragile child” by doctors, the Riebens say Jonah died in a matter of hours, from the initial onset of symptoms.

“Jonah especially loved music, car rides, chocolate smoothies, and observing the mischief and shenanigans of his older siblings,” Richard Rieben said. “His bright light is one that will never be extinguished, but will continue to burn brightly within the hearts of all who had the privileged of knowing him.”

Jonah died at Dayton Children’s Hospital on Saturday.

The Riebens say Nikolai is is in hospital, in stable condition.

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