Lilliana Schalck died because of an underlying strep infection, an autopsy conducted on the 13-year-old Kentucky cheerleader has revealed. Her cause of death was released in a coroner’s report on April 26 made public by her family. Schalk died suddenly after falling ill at a cheerleading competition in Columbus, Ohio, on February 13.
Lilliana’s family said they were not aware of the strep infection. The teen cheerleader from Highlands Middle School in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, told her teammates she was feeling sick and weak. She was taken to a hospital by ambulance and was dead two hours later. Her sudden and tragic death drew sympathy from around the country.
The Franklin County Coroner’s Office said a Group A Beta-hemolytic Streptococcus infection killed Lilliana.
“Apparently, an underlying Strep infection overwhelmed her immune system with little or no warning, and catastrophic results,” Lilliana’s family said in a written statement Friday, according to WCPO-TV. “We knew this [coroner’s] report was coming and honestly have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand it changes nothing for us. But, on the other hand, we wouldn’t wish this nightmare on anyone and maybe this report might help prevent a similar outcome for someone else. Lilliana would surely help if she could, and this is just an extension of that spirit.”
Her family added, “We are forever heartbroken and appreciate the respect we have been given so far, and ask that to continue as we focus on her life and legacy, as well as our life without her — however unwelcome it is. We are so thankful, and honestly overwhelmed, by those that have reached out and continue to find new ways to support Lilliana’s memory on an almost daily basis.”
Lilliana’s Health Quickly Deteriorated After She Was Taken to the Hospital
Lilliana Schalck was taken from the cheerleading competition to a nearby hospital after she began feeling sick. Highlands High School Athletic Director Kevin Nieporte told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the 13-year-old girl’s health “quickly deteriorated.”
She was complaining of hamstring pain and weakness, and said she felt cold. Her father, Dan Schalck, told ABC News, “I kind of took her aside, was maybe going to get her some fluids. She was just getting kind of weaker, just not acting herself.” She was then taken to the emergency room at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and was soon in the intensive care unit.
“In the ICU they were working on her,” her father told ABC News. “At some point I was able to get close, hold her hand. At that point they just couldn’t do anymore.”
Lilliana was dead about three hours later.
Lilliana Had Last Been Diagnosed With Strep About 6 Years Ago, but the Infection Led to Sepsis in February, Which Was Fatal
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Lilliana Schalck was last diagnosed with strep about six years ago, but that underlying infection is what caused her death. The strep led to sepsis, or blood infection, which was fatal.
“That may have been the last time she was recognized as having strep throat, but bacteria live all around us, and it’s not terribly unusual to have a skin infection from strep or staph. What’s unusual, but definitely still seen, is that the infection from strep got into her blood and caused severe sepsis and death,” Dr. Andrew Bernstein told Health.com.
Christ Hospital Dr. Riham Alwan told the newspaper that strep that leads to sepsis is called the “silent killer,” because of the danger it poses.
“It moves very, very, very, very fast. This used to be something nobody knew about,” Alwan told the Enquirer. “It depends on where the strep is. So, the most common things in a young, healthy person is either the urine or the blood, or in the spinal cord, but usually, in a young, healthy person, unless they have a cut on their skin, that would have brought it into their blood, it would probably be the urine, especially in a female.”
Group A Streptococcus is the same bacteria that causes the common, and typically minor, strep throat infection. According to ABC News health reporters Emily Shapiro and Dr. Joshua Rosenblatt, “Although GAS more commonly causes minor infections like strep throat and impetigo (a superficial skin infection), it can also cause serious and life-threatening infections like cellulitis (a deeper skin infection), necrotizing fasciitis (so-called ‘flesh-eating’ disease), pneumonia and toxic shock syndrome.”
“About 11,000 to 13,000 cases of invasive GAS disease occur each year in the United States, compared to the millions of non-invasive GAS infections, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Anywhere from 1,100 to 1,600 people who develop an invasive GAS disease will die each year,” ABC News added.
According to Sepsis.org, “Group A strep bacteria live in your nose and throat, so they are spread through droplets that become airborne from coughing or sneezing or by direct contact with the mucus. Droplets may be directly breathed in if you’re close enough when the person coughs or sneezes. As well, the droplets may land on a solid object that you touch later. This type of contact may also occur if people who are infected blow their nose and touch an object before washing their hands. Either way, if the bacteria are transferred to your hand or fingers and you put your hand to your face, you can become infected.”
“Most of the time, it just hangs out there and doesn’t cause any problems,” Dr. Robert Frenck, a professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati in the infectious disease division, told Cincinnati.com. But he said serious strep cases are very rare.
“It’s very, very common to have strep in your throat,” he told the news site. “It’s very, very rare to have serious complications.”
Dan Schalck told the Enquirer that his daughter had been treated for strep several years ago and was the “picture of health,” when each time she saw her doctor in the years since then.
Lilliana Was a Talented Cheerleader Who Competed With High Schoolers Despite Being in Middle School
Lilliana Schalck was a student at Highlands Middle School. It is located in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, which is located on the Ohio River near Cincinnati. Despite being in the eighth grade, Lilliana competed with high school students.
She was “one of our most talented cheerleaders,” and was the “nicest person,” who was, “beloved by all,” Athletic Director Kevin Nieporte told the Courier-Journal.
Lilliana and her team, Premier Athletics of Northern Kentucky, were competing at the Midwest National Championship, put on by COA Cheer and Dance, at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Her Memory Was Celebrated by Her Teammates at the Competition & at Vigils in Her Hometown
Lilliana’s team paid tribute to her during the competition and a vigil was held when they returned to her home town. The team posted on Facebook, ““remember our sweet angel we have tragically lost. Our hearts are completely broken for the Schalk family. We want to take the time to honor Lillana and pray with our friends and family here in NKY.”
The team added on Facebook, “It is with a heavy heart that I post, one of our precious girls passed away last night, and it’s devastating. I have been trying to figure out how to put into words the grief and heartbreak and I have no words of wisdom, as Lilliana was an amazing, talented, sweet, thoughtful, kind, fun loving girl. It seems that 8th grade and 14 is too young to say goodbye. Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to describe the pain. I’m asking that everyone please pray for her parents, her classmates, her teammates, her teachers and anyone that knew this amazing child. ???. Her parents, teammates and classmates will need the amazing support from our community to navigate through this difficult time. ?”
You can read the Schalck family’s full statement about her cause of death below:
We would first like to express our utmost appreciation for the outpouring of love and support from her friends, teachers, coaches, and administrators at Highlands Middle and High Schools, her extended family at Premier Athletics, plus the entire cheer community across this whole country, and most of all the good people of Fort Thomas. We are so thankful, and honestly overwhelmed, by those that have reached out and continue to find new ways to support Lilliana’s memory on an almost daily basis.
Apparently, an underlying Strep infection overwhelmed her immune system with little or no warning, and catastrophic results. We knew this report was coming and honestly have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand it changes nothing for us. But, on the other hand, we wouldn’t wish this nightmare on anyone and maybe this report might help prevent a similar outcome for someone else. Lilliana would surely help if she could, and this is just an extension of that spirit.
We are still in shock as we navigate through the most difficult time imaginable-we find new ‘Firsts’ and ‘Lasts’ every day. We are forever heartbroken and appreciate the respect we have been given so far, and ask that to continue as we focus on her life and legacy, as well as our life without her – however unwelcome it is.
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