This 13-Year-Old Cheerleader Died From Sepsis Caused by a Strep Infection

Lilliana Schalck of Columbus, Ohio, was living a normal life when she passed away suddenly during a cheerleading competition in February. The 13-year-old had been healthy until just before she died, but an underlying—and common—strep infection caused her to develop sepsis, which ultimately took her life.

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Lilliana and her father, Dan, were attending a cheerleading competition in February when her father said that Lilliana began to feel weak. In an interview with FOX19, her father said that she was "kinda out of sorts," with symptoms like numbness in her hands, hamstring pain, and feeling all-around weak. Lilliana was rushed to the hospital and just hours later was pronounced dead.

"We went from waiting for her to perform at 5:50 to holding her hand and they announced that she had passed at 7:40," her father told FOX19.

The Schalk family revealed the cause of Lilliana's death from her autopsy. "Apparently an underlying strep infection overwhelmed her immune system with little or no warning, and (resulted in) catastrophic results," the family said in a statement.

It had been six years since the last time Lilliana was diagnosed with strep, but apparently, she reacquired the bacteria unknowingly, which led to sepsis, a severe reaction to an infection. News reports suggest that the case of strep she had years ago could have caused her death, but Andrew Bernstein, MD, a pediatrician at North Suburban Pediatrics in Evanston, Illinois, and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, tells Health that is not really possible.

"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," says Dr. Bernstein. "What's unusual, but definitely still seen, is that the infection from strep got into her blood and caused severe sepsis and death."

Strep vs. Staph Infections

Strep bacteria (streptococcus) are common and usually, appear in the throat or mouth as white patches. There are three major categories of strep bacteria that can cause many different illnesses. Sinusitis, pneumonia, sore throats, meningitis, impetigo around the mouth and nose, scarlet fever, and urinary tract infections (UTIs) are just a few of the illnesses that can have strep causes. There are some strains of strep that can release toxins that go on to shock organs and can cause death.

Staph (staphylococcus) is another bacterial infection of the skin and nose and usually happens after you have had an open wound or surgery. Staph can be harmful if it penetrates below the skin where it can get into the bloodstream and joints and cause toxic shock syndrome. Symptoms of toxic shock include abdominal pain, high fever, confusion, diarrhea, and rash. Some staph bacteria can cause food poisoning.

Symptoms of Sepsis

Symptoms of sepsis can include a high heart rate, fever, feeling cold, and extreme pain or discomfort, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While these symptoms can be easily confused with other illnesses, it's recommended that anyone experiencing these symptoms seek medical care immediately.

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