(CNN) -- The common flu rarely kills the young and healthy, but the Schwolert family knows it can.
Their 17-year-old son Max felt ill on December 22 as the family drove to Wisconsin for Christmas vacation, beginning a series of ups and downs that would ultimately claim his life.
At first, Max took Tylenol for his symptoms: a mild fever and nausea.
He woke up the next morning feeling well enough to play in the snow with his two sisters. His family endearingly called him "Panda," for his gentle nature and 6' 4" height.
The next day, Christmas Eve, Max stayed home with a cough while his family attended church. The extra bed rest seemed to help. By Christmas day, Max felt better again, even participating in the family festivities.
But later that night he took a turn for worse and never got better.
"He woke up very sick," said Tom Schwolert, Max's father.
"He had an excessive 104.9 fever, and we could not break it," said Max's mother Melanie.
The Schwolerts took their son to the local hospital where he tested positive for the flu.
"Within 30 minutes the doctor was like, 'Something's really wrong here. His kidneys are starting to fail. His blood pressure is really low,' " Tom remembered.
Max had to be helicoptered to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, but there was no room on the flight for family. Max's mother had to say good-bye to her sick son and drive separately. That "broke my heart," she said.
"He looked at me and there were some tears rolling down his face. He said 'Mom, I'm scared.' I said, 'I know buddy, I am too.' And then he saw me crying. He said, 'Mom it's going to be OK, you're going to be OK, I love you. And that's really the last coherent thing he said to me."
Max spent four days intubated in the intensive care unit at Regions. A staph bacterial infection soon led to septic shock.
By December 29, Max was dead.
When the Schwolert family returned home from Minnesota, the college acceptance letter Max had been hoping for had finally been delivered.