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Columbus first-grader had flu, strep throat before her death, coroner says

Staff Reports - COLUMBUS, Ind. (WISH) -- Columbus schoolchildren are surprised and alarmed after a first-grader died.

She had Influenza B and strep throat at the time of her death at Columbus Regional Hospital.

Family members found 7-year-old Savanna Jessie unresponsive at home early Thursday morning. Emergency responders took her to Columbus Regional Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 6:39 a.m.

Jessie had been running a high fever but did not appear to suffer from sepsis from an infection, nor was there an indication of foul play, Bartholomew Coroner Clayton Nolting told our newsgathering partners at The Republic.

After an autopsy on Friday morning at Columbus Regional Hospital, Jessie's cause of death remained pending the completion of toxicology tests. The coroner's office asked to test body tissue samples and to see the girl's medical records. Nolting said in a news release Friday that a final ruling on cause of death could take up to three weeks.

Counselors were available Friday at Columbus Signature Academy-Lincoln Elementary School to help her classmates with their grief.

The flu is widespread in Indiana. That's according to the latest report put out Friday by the Indiana State Department of Health. Since October there have been 136 flu deaths in Indiana. Most of those deaths are people older than 65, but the mortality report includes a few children, too.

Students told 24-Hour News 8 they are talking with their families now about the dangers of the flu.

"Knowing someone that walks down the hallways of where you learn and them dying is really sad," said Bryan Gonzalez, a sixth-grader at the school. The possibility of a flu-related death surprised another Columbus student we talked to. "When I talk about the flu I don't usually think about it killing people. I think of it as it lasts three or four days. You're done with it," said Jaylin Ballard, also in Grade 6."It's scary because I could get the flu and it could happen to me," Ballard said.Savanna's death sparked conversations at Columbus homes. The flu can be quite contagious, spreading up to 6 feet from a person who has it. There are many steps the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you can take to avoid catching the flu. You can get the flu vaccine, wash your hands often, cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze and try not to touch your nose, mouth or eyes since that's the quickest way for germs to spread.

Superintendent Jim Roberts with the Bartholomew Consolidated Schools released a statement Friday afternoon acknowledging with great sadness the death of the first-grader and addressing families' concerns about the flu. Roberts said the school corporation had notified Dr. Roy Goode, the school corporation's physician, the Bartholomew County Health Department and the State Department of Health.

Although there is no reporting requirement about illness rates until the absence rate reaches 20 percent, Roberts said the Bartholomew County school district's rate was hovering around 5 percent and it was imperative that the school corporation share information about the spread of germs.

The statement advised:

  • Parents or guardians concerned about a child's overall health, flu-like symptoms or other risk factors should contact their child's primary health care provider or the local health department for recommendations.
  • Those who are sick should stay home and contact their doctor for advice. Students and staff are encouraged to get the flu vaccine.
  • Everyday preventative actions such as covering your nose and mouth with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing, washing your hands or using hand sanitizer and to avoid spreading germs by touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

"As always, school attendance is critical to a child's success," the statement said. "We respect a parent's determination regarding his or her child's attendance. In making the decision to keep a child at home, as with any absence, parents are expected to contact the school and provide the specific reason to school officials."

Bartholomew County Schools officials met Thursday with staff members to inform them of the girl's death, but students were not told at that time, said Larry Perkinson, the employee and student assistance coordinator.

Also Thursday, staff at the girl's school called families with students in the girl's class to inform them of her death, and a written notification was sent to all families who have children in the school, according to Perkinson.

Below is the obituary from Barkes, Weaver and Glick Funeral Home posted Friday for Savanna G. Jessie:

Savanna G. Jessie, 7 years old of Columbus, died at 6:39a.m. Thursday, February 1, 2018 at Columbus Regional Hospital.

She was a 1st grader at Columbus Signature Academy-Lincoln Elementary School. She loved to draw, color, her stuffed animals, school, and her cats and dogs.

Arrangements are pending at this time.

Burial will follow at Garland Brook Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be given to the Bartholomew County Humane Society.

Online condolences and special memories may be shared with the Jessie Family at barkesweaverglick.com and a video tribute viewed.

Savanna was born on September 27, 2010 in Indianapolis the daughter of Matthew T. Jessie and Tasha Wooten.

Survivors include her father and step-mother, Matthew T. and Jordan Jessie of Columbus, her mother, Tasha Wooten; Sisters, Madison Jessie and Abriannah Jessie; Brothers, Jayden Jessie, Kaleb Jessie, Xander Wooten, Carson Turner, and Keegan Tempest; Grandparents, Larry & Debbie Jessie, Debbie Newsom, Melinda Wooten, David & Tressie Turner, and Beth Piercefield; Great Grandparents, Nettie Pearl Jessie and Charles and Barbara Turner; and several aunts, uncles, and cousins.

She was preceded in death by her grandfather, James Wooten; Great Grandmother, Betty Jewell; and Great Grandfathers, Billy Jessie and James Jewell.

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