4th-grader at Barrington school district dies of flu complications

SUN-TIMES MEDIA WIRE - A northwest suburban school district is mourning the loss of one of its students after he unexpectedly died of rare complications from the flu over winter break, school officials said in a letter to parents.

Johnny Towler, a 10-year-old in fourth grade at Grove Avenue Elementary School in Barrington, died of a rare viral infection that attacks the heart called myocarditis, school officials said in a statement Tuesday.

Towler died at 4:52 a.m. Dec. 31 at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Myocarditis, which causes an inflammation of the heart, can have many causes, including a viral infection like influenza, according to the Myocarditis Foundation.

The exact cause of Towler’s myocarditis wasn’t known by school officials, district spokeswoman Samantha Ptashkin said. She added: “We are not concerned about a flu epidemic at the school.”

Barrington School District 220 said counselors would be provided for students and staff.

“We are deeply saddened by the unexpected passing of one of our students, who was very much loved by the Barrington 220 community,” district spokeswoman Samantha Ptashkin said in a statement. “We have extra counselors on hand this week for any students or staff who need support and our thoughts are with the student’s family during this difficult time.”

In Chicago, an increase in flu cases prompted the Chicago Fire Department to add five additional ambulances to combat a flu outbreak nearing “pandemic” proportions that has flooded hospital emergency rooms, forcing some to go on “bypass.”

Six deaths have been attributed to the flu outbreak in Chicago, according to state and local public health officials.

To slow the outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a list of steps people can take — including getting seasonally vaccinated — to avoid getting sick and spreading the virus.