Possible H1N1 death hits home for East Texas family

By Sara Story - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Doctors say it could be a long time before we know if an East Texas child's death was caused by the H1N1 virus. But, they're certainly leaning in that direction. 9-year-old Montrell Harris died Tuesday at a Dallas hospital, after testing positive for flu. Harris, who was a student at Jack Elementary in Tyler, also suffered from severe respiratory conditions.

"He run and played with everyone else," said Annie Hardin, the aunt of Montrell Harris. "It was hard for us to keep up with him. It got him this time."

His family describes him as a boy who was full of energy. But, Montrell Harris's life was cut short by what health officials say was a flu-related death.

"He's gonna be real missed," said Hardin. "Not just from me but from his cousins, aunt, uncles, everybody."

Stephanie Taylor with the Northeast Texas Public Health District says it may take weeks to confirm whether H1N1 is to blame. But, the virus is attacking kids right around Montrell's age.

"It's dramatically shifting to a younger population," said  Taylor.

Another group of H1N1 targets are the medically fragile. And, the child's family says he battled chronic asthma since he was a baby.

"He didn't let asthma get him down," said Hardin. "That was one of his problems. He wouldn't sit still."

Tyler ISD says Jack Elementary will remain open, and aggressive sanitary measures are being taken.

"We have been taking a pro-active approach since the start of school year," said Angela Jenkins with TISD. "We want to reassure parents we will continue with those practices of sanitizing our campuses and school buses."

And, health officials say it's important parents don't panic, but remember the flu virus is everywhere, not just in schools.

"It's at the grocery stores, it's at your churches, it's everywhere, [at] football games," said Taylor.

From personal experience, this aunt says monitor your children closely.

"If your child is sick, don't wait 'till the next day or two days later...get them to the hospital!" said Hardin.

The child's family is in need of money to help fund his funeral. If you would like to donate, a memorial fund for Montrell Harris has been set up at Texas Bank and Trust in Tyler. Tyler ISD sent a letter home to parents Wednesday afternoon to better inform them of the death and what the district is doing in response. The letter also urges parents to teach children the importance of washing hands and practicing good hygiene.

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