Nov. 24, 2009
Swine flu linked to 6 deaths
By John Myers
“It’s just unbelievable,” said
Debbie Walczynski of her son’s death last week after a bout
with the H1N1 flu.
Matthew James Walczynski, 32, of Duluth came home
from work Friday, Nov. 6, running a fever of 103.8 degrees, and
went straight to bed, according to his mother. Ten days later he
He’s one of six people who have died in
recent weeks at SMDC Medical Center in Duluth because of flu-related
ailments, even as the number of flu patients has dropped across
the Northland. Walczynski, a quality analyst for Optium Health,
was the only one of the six who didn’t have an underlying
health condition before he came down with the flu, SMDC officials
SMDC officials confirmed Monday that five of the
six dead were adults while one was a child. All the flu-associated
deaths occurred in November and come a month after new flu cases
peaked in the region and nationally.
“The majority have been in the 18 to 64
age group with chronic medical conditions,” said Beth Johnson,
But Matthew Walczynski had no prior history of
health problems, his mother said.
“It came on quickly,” Debbie Walczynski
said. “We tried all weekend to get his temperature down, but
we never could.”
Besides the fever, Matthew Walczynski also became
congested and complained of aches.
On the evening of Nov. 10, Walczynski arrived
at the SMDC emergency room and was admitted on the spot.
X-rays revealed Walczynski’s lungs were
severely congested, and his oxygen levels were dangerously low,
prompting his transfer to SMDC’s coronary intensive care unit
on Nov. 11. There, he was placed on oxygen to improve his breathing.
Walczynski also was diagnosed with a bacterial blood infection.
That Saturday, a week after he came home sick,
Walczynski was taken off oxygen and his X-rays seemed to show some
clearing in his lungs. But on Monday, Nov. 16, his condition worsened.
“About halfway through the day it turned
on him, and his heart gave out,” Debbie Walczynski said.
Dr. Kevin Stephan, an infectious disease specialist
at SMDC, said he has not heard of any other H1N1 death in the state
involving an adult with no prior underlying medical issues that
would place them at risk.
“It’s an exceedingly rare occurrence
that’s highly unexpected,” he said.
While Jim and Debbie Walczynski of Duluth grieve
for their son, the local flu situation shows signs of improvement,
“We’re seeing fewer new cases in recent
weeks,” she said. “But the serious cases of people with
underlying conditions, this is still an issue for them. …
It’s why we are still urging people to get their vaccine if
they are in one of those priority groups.”
It’s possible that because of other health
factors the Minnesota Department of Health may not classify all
six of the Duluth fatalities as officially caused by the H1N1 novel
virus, Johnson said.
No flu deaths occurred at St. Luke’s hospital
in Duluth during the week of Nov. 7-14. Statewide statistics for
the past week will be released today.
Through Nov. 14, the most recent statistics available
Monday, there have been 26 confirmed H1N1-related deaths in Minnesota
since the recent outbreak began in September, and another two deaths
are probably from H1N1.
Through Nov. 14, 1,439 cases of H1N1 have been
confirmed statewide, including 139 in Northeastern Minnesota. But
because H1N1 novel is the only flu now common in the area, it’s
likely hundreds if not thousands more people had the flu.
Across St. Louis County there have been 74 cases
of H1N1 hospitalizations since September, county health department
officials said Monday.
But the number of newly confirmed cases of H1N1
in Minnesota has crashed in recent weeks across the state, from
420 during the peak week in mid-October to fewer than 100 in the
week ending Nov. 14. That number was expected to drop even more
in numbers to be released today by the Minnesota Department of Health.
Dr. Linda Van Etta, St. Luke’s hospital
flu expert, said office, urgent-care and emergency-room visits for
flu-like symptoms have declined dramatically here and across the
“And we’re not seeing any new hospital
admissions from the flu now,” she said. “That’s
not to say people aren’t being affected by the flu. But it
appears this second wave is showing signs of slowing.”
Van Etta said she expects a third wave of H1N1
to occur, possibly in January or February, but it’s not clear
if that wave will be less intense or more of a problem. That’s
also about when the usual seasonal flu will begin to hit the region
News Tribune staff writer Peter Passi contributed
to this report.