Flu factor in girl’s death

Local 7-year-old had not received seasonal shot

Complications of an influenza B infection has been ruled the cause of death for a 7-year-old Columbus girl.

First-grader Savanna Jessie had been healthy until a few days before her Feb. 1 death, her father Matt Jessie said.

The ruling from a forensic pathologist was made after reviewing reports from an autopsy performed the day after the child died, Bartholomew County Coroner Clayton Nolting said.

Savanna was taken to Columbus Regional Hospital’s emergency department by her father, Matt Jessie, on Jan. 30, where doctors diagnosed her with strep throat. She received a shot containing antibiotics and was sent home.

Jessie took her back to the emergency department the next day after Savanna had a 104-degree temperature, and Savanna tested positive for influenza B and was then diagnosed with scarlet fever in addition to the strep throat.

After treatment with steroids, Tamiflu and fever reducers, she was released to go home, her father said.

When the family woke up the morning of Feb. 1, they found Savanna unresponsive in the top bunk bed in her bedroom at 5:41 a.m. and started CPR while calling 911. She was rushed by emergency responders to Columbus Regional Hospital, where she was pronounced dead about an hour later at 6:39 a.m., according to the coroner’s office.

Jessie, who was notified about the cause-of-death ruling Thursday morning, said Savanna had not received a flu shot this flu season.

For the week ending Feb. 3, the Indiana Department of Health reported that 167 people had died from the flu, compared to 136 people the prior week.

Savanna was remembered by her classmates and staff at Columbus Signature Academy — Lincoln with a Feb. 5 balloon release.

After her death, classmates decided they wanted to write notes to Savanna, principal Brett Findley said. Teachers and staff members collected the notes and helped the first-graders attach them to bright yellow balloons — the color signifying Savanna’s bright personality, he said.

The classmates and their teacher, Lori Cash, and other staff members released the balloons in an afternoon ceremony as a way to send their messages to Savanna, he said.

An online fund at youcaring.com surpassed its $8,500 goal, enough money to help pay for Savanna’s Feb. 8 funeral. It will also help pay for the headstone at her gravesite, the girl’s father said.

Matt Jessie said family members are doing OK in the aftermath of losing Savanna, helped by the ongoing support of friends and the community who have reached out to provide comfort and help.

“It’s been hard to cope with,” he said Thursday. “It’s still hard to believe.”

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.