Just a week before celebrating her 15th birthday last Thursday, Gabriella Chabot, a beloved ninth grader at La Reina High School in Thousand Oaks, California, became the latest fatality of a nationwide flu epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the flu has already claimed the lives of 63 children this season.
"I wish there was better news this week, but almost everything we're looking at is bad news," Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC said of the 10 children who died from influenza in the past week alone, according to ABC News.
In a heartbreaking post on Facebook early last Friday morning, Gabriella's father, Michael Chabot, announced that his daughter passed away.
"Today I experienced the day that no parent should. I lost my daughter... my angel Gabriella Chabot. We are heartbroken. She would have been 15 on 2/16/18. I love you peanut! Papi will never forget you. You will always be my angel," he wrote.
At a prayer vigil in her honor at the all-girls Catholic school she attended, dozens of heartbroken and shocked family and friends showed up to remember Gabriella.
"Just totally shocked. How does someone 14 get the flu this bad? She's a healthy beautiful girl so my thoughts are, 'wow, how bad is this flu?' It's serious," Moorpark resident Sharon Hobbie told ABC 7.
And Dr. Schuchat said CDC experts aren't sure when the epidemic will end.
"It's difficult to predict, and we don't know," Schuchat said.
The CDC weekly influenza report shows that 17,101 laboratory-confirmed cases have led to hospitalizations between Oct. 1, 2017, and Feb. 3. This is the highest number of hospitalizations from the flu the CDC has recorded since the agency began tracking the flu 10 years ago, Schuchat said.
"We recognize that this issue is personal to so many families and that there is a lot of fear and alarm," Schuchat said of the epidemic. "Flu is incredibly difficult to predict, and we don't know if we've hit a peak. We could see more weeks of increased flu activity."
Because of the uncertainty of the outbreak, Schuchat said it isn't too late to get the flu shot.
A memorial service for Gabriella is expected to take place on Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church, in Westlake Village. She is survived by her parents, a brother and sister and other extended family.
At school, says her obituary, "she was loved by teachers and her many friends."
"She was so proud to earn a place on the Junior Varsity Tennis team. She was passionate about her photography and was always taking funny pictures of her loved ones. Her sense of humor was contagious which drew so many people to her. Gabriella adored her family and loved her friends dearly," it said.
"She was an incredibly affectionate girl who gave the best hugs and lots of sweet kisses. Gabriella was a loving, beautiful, caring, intelligent girl who was a bright light in the lives of all who knew her. Her big, beautiful smile has made a lasting imprint on the hearts of people everywhere. She will be forever loved and deeply missed."