Late Naperville student had H1N1 flu

Students mourn high school freshman's death
October 10, 2009 6:18:54 AM PDT
An investigation is underway to determine if the death of a Naperville High School student was caused by the H1N1 flu virus. Fourteen-year-old Michelle Fahle died Thursday morning.

She tested positive for the H1N1 virus according to the DuPage County Health Department. However, a majority of the deaths involving people infected with the virus can be blamed on other health issues, a DuPage County medical officer says. Officials are trying to determine if that's what caused Fahle's death. Friends and classmates say that Fahle had been sick and out of school for a few days before she was rushed to Edwards Hospital Thursday morning and pronounced dead.

Fahle is being remembered as a sweet girl with a wonderful singing voice.

Her cause of death has not been confirmed because up to 70 percent of influenza-related deaths have underlying causes.

As of right now, the DuPage County Coroner is saying they're still waiting for toxicology and pathology results before they rule on Fahle's death.

"This is the first death in an individual in DuPage County with H1N1 influenza. In Illinois, so far, there have been 19 deaths due to or related to H1N1 influenza in 2009," said Dr. Rashmi Chugh, DuPage County Health Department.

Despite confirmation from the health department that she was infected with the H1N1 flu virus, it's not clear whether the Naperville teenager suffered from any underlying conditions which may have precipitated her death.

Her classmates are reacting to the news.

"Michelle was just a really fun girl. She loved helping out everyone. She always welcomes everyone with a smile. She loves making jokes," Frances Foley said. "She was so nice. She was shy, but when you got to know her, she was great," said classmate Jillian Van Kampen.

"I found out on Facebook, and everyone, all their statuses are about her, saying rest in peace. It's really sad. I'm in shock about it. I can't believe that she is not with us anymore," said classmate Maria Gryglesky.

The school, which is closed until Tuesday because of parent-teacher conferences and the Columbus Day holiday, says they will not postpone a return to class because of Fahle's death, but they are following health department guidelines regarding H1N1.

"We do cleansing procedures that are very similar to what other schools do and what the DuPage County Health Department recommends to us on a regular basis anyway, and that we have been doing since the spring," said Kevin Pobst, Principa lof Naperville North High School.

Those close to Fahle are finding their own way to mourn her passing.

One put together a video with photos of her.

A Facebook page in her name has 1,500 members, many writing down their remembrances of the teenager. That Facebook page is also asking students to wear her favorite colors, lime green and purple, back to school on Tuesday.

The viewing for Fahle will be on Tuesday, in Naperville. A funeral service will follow Wednesday morning.

The DuPage County Health Department has put out a hotline for people who might have questions related to the H1N1 flu virus. The number is 630-221-7600, and it is available 24 hours a day.

A heartbroken best friend

Michelle Fahle and her best friend, Alexa Hansen, have a lot in common. Both were 14-year-old freshman at Naperville North. They enjoyed singing in choir and just being teenagers. Both have birthdays coming up in the next few weeks.

But instead of a celebration, there will be a funeral for Fahle.

Fahle's death has left her best friend with a broken heart.

"She was the greatest person in the world. She was so understanding. Sweet, just beautiful, inside and out," Hansen said.

Hansen says she has known Fahle since 6th grade. The two had sleepovers, polished their nails, and sang in choir.

They even spent part of the weekend together, and both got sick Sunday.

"It was weird. The same morning we both woke up and had fevers of about 103," Hansen said. Fahle died Thursday morning. Health officials say her death is related to H1N1, and they're doing more tests for any underlying conditions.

At this point, Fahle's family has not made any public comments.

"I can't believe their only child is gone. Alexa is my only child too, and I can't put myself in that place at all," said Wenna Beeman, Alexa Hansen's mother.

Hansen started antibiotics Thursday after a school nurse called them about Fahle's death. Hansen is improving, slowly.

"I've never seen her this sick. She was out of it and in pain from head to toe," Beeman said.

"Still have the cough. It was horrible on Sunday; it felt like I was dying," Hansen said.

In the meantime, a pictorial tribute in Fahle's honor has been posted on YouTube. Hansen says she believes the two got sick after comforting an ill classmate.

"We hugged her at the same time, and both got it at the same time," Hansen said.

Now, with Fahle gone, Hansen is hurting and misses her best friend.

"She is up in heaven with Jesus," she said.

A growing concern

Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the H1N1 flu virus is widespread. It is now in 37 states.

H1N1 is having a deadly effect on children, who's immune systems are not as strong as most adults.

Nineteen deaths in children, 17 or younger were reported to the CDC this week.

Since April, the CDC reports 76 deadly cases of swine flu in children.

Doctors say the best advice for parents is to be vigilant and to stay in contact with a physician while a child has mild flu-like symptoms.

Doctors say while the statistics are alarming, it is rare for mild flu cases to turn deadly quickly.

"Patients who are admitted to the hospital because of H1N1 infection have had symptoms that have persisted for days and weeks prior to being admitted to the hospital," said Pediatrician Ed Cortez, Rush University Medical Center.

More stories about swine flu can be found here.


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