16-year-old Virginia girl dies days after being diagnosed with the flu

Katie Giovanniello (WUSA)

LEESBURG, Va. (WUSA) — Katie Giovanniello spent the last healthy day of her life shopping with her mom and sisters. Five days later, the 16-year-old went into cardiac arrest in her mother's arms, after being diagnosed with Influenza B. She passed away at 3:55 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 7 at Inova Children's Hospital in Fairfax.

Katie went to bed on Saturday, Feb. 1 with plans of going to yoga with her family the next morning. Instead, she woke up not feeling well and asked to see a doctor. Katie's mom, Colette Giovanniello, said she took Katie to Urgent Care that Sunday, where she was diagnosed with the flu and given a prescription for Tamiflu. Colette said doctors told her to keep her daughter hydrated.

Colette said her daughter vomited several times over the next few days, which she said she was told was a possible side effect of Tamiflu. While Katie's symptoms all seemed typical of the flu, she didn't seem to be getting any better. She was clammy, tired and wasn't keeping food down, but she never spiked a high fever. All Katie seemed to want to do was cuddle in her mother's bed.

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"I held her and comforted her, never knowing my daughter was dying in my arms," Colette said through tears.

On Thursday morning, Colette said she was giving her daughter a bath when she went into cardiac arrest in her arms. Katie's 17-year-old sister, Nicole, is a lifeguard and performed CPR until an ambulance arrived, Colette said. Katie was originally taken to Inova Loudoun Hospital, but later transferred to Inova Children's Hospital in Fairfax.

Katie was put on life support, but Colette said she was told that after exhaustive measures to resuscitate her daughter, Katie showed no brain activity. She passed away at 3:55 a.m. Friday.

Katie, a sophomore, attended Heritage High School, along with her twin sister Danielle, and their older sister Nicole, who is a senior at the school.

Jeff Adams, principal of Heritage High, notified parents of Katie's sudden passing in a letter sent Friday morning. Adams said that emotional support counselors were on standby at the school, and also noted that several planned events at the school would be canceled out of respect for Katie's family.

"As many of you no doubt are, I am deeply saddened by this news," Friday's letter read. "A traumatic event can evoke a wide range of reactions, and I know that the Heritage community shares in the family’s loss and grief ... The safety and well-being of our students is always our main priority, and we are prepared to support our students’ emotional needs as they arise. With that being said, we will have additional counselors at school today who will be available to help any students with questions they may have or difficulties they might experience."

Colette said she and her daughters are grateful for the outpouring of love and support they've been shown from the school community, as well as families she didn't even know knew Katie. Colette described her daughter as the kind of girl who "found family everywhere she went." She'd have dinner with the parents of her friends, and call them mom and dad.

"I shared her with everyone," Collete said. "I didn't know how much she was loved until now."

Colette said she hopes that Katie's death will serve as a warning, and that "everyone will take the flu seriously."

"I never could have imagined," Collete said, "that an otherwise healthy 16-year-old would die from the flu."

An exact cause of death was not yet released.

An autopsy will not be performed because Katie's death was considered a "natural death," and it does not fall under the jurisdiction of the medical examiner, officials with Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Virginia said.

While the novel coronavirus has become the latest international scare — killing more than 1,000 people so far — flu-related illnesses are on the rise. There have been 12,000 flu-related deaths so far this season in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control.

So far, Maryland has seen 22 adult deaths and three pediatric deaths, according to a report from the Maryland Department of Health.

Compare that to Virginia, which reports 773 adult flu-related deaths this season, but zero pediatric deaths. Flu activity in Virginia has been listed as widespread for the last 10 weeks, per the Virginia Department of Health, which the report shows started earlier than last flu season.

The Department of Health for the District of Columbia did not have data on adult deaths available to the public, but reports zero pediatric flu-related deaths this season.

A GoFundMe has been set up in Katie's honor.