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Third-grader dies from flu in Washington County

Ben Schmitt
| Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, 6:33 p.m.
Payton Pierson
Payton Pierson

A 10-year-old Washington County girl who loved dancing and animals has died after contracting the flu, according to her family.

Payton Elizabeth Pierson, a third-grader at Trinity South Elementary School, died Thursday at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, less than a week after she was diagnosed with the flu, her paternal aunt, Carissa Worobec, told the Tribune-Review.

Doctors at Washington Hospital diagnosed Payton with the flu through a rapid nasal test on the evening Feb. 4, and she returned home, Worobec said. She collapsed Sunday morning and was rushed back to Washington Hospital before being flown via helicopter to Children's.

“She never woke up,” Worobec said. “I was with her daily, and she never came out of it.”

Payton remained in a coma until Thursday, when she was removed from life support. She died at 6:11 p.m., according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office, which listed her cause of death as natural. Children's Hospital spokeswoman Andrea Kunicky said she could not a confirm a cause.

“Her parents are devastated,” Worobec said of James Edward Morris and Ashley Pierson. “Everyone is in shock. This is not a loss you expect to go through as a parent.”

An obituary said Payton loved animals. Her favorites were her cat, Ghost, and her grandfather's dog, Jules. She took dance lessons with Rhythm City Dance by Chelsea in Washington.

“She was a hip-hop dancer,” Worobec said. “It was the music. It was the movement. She couldn't get enough. She tried to make her own YouTube videos.”

Worobec said Payton did not have pre-existing medical conditions.

“She was a perfectly healthy 10-year-old girl,” she said.

Flu is widespread in Pennsylvania and surrounding states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Friday that three children have died from flu-related illnesses in the past two weeks.

“Influenza is a major infectious disease killer, and thousands of Americans die from it every year,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist with UPMC. “Usually deaths are clustered among the very old and the very young, but other age groups can have severe or fatal courses as well. This season, which is dominated by the usually more severe H3N2 strain, has seen at least 20 pediatric deaths nationwide.”

So far this season, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has confirmed 26,675 flu cases and 38 flu-related deaths. Not including Payton, only one death has come in a person under 18 this season, according to health department statistics.

There have been 2,582 flu cases in Allegheny County; 762 in Westmoreland and 787 in Washington County.

According to Payton's obituary, visitation is Sunday from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. in the William G. Neal Funeral Home, 925 Allison Ave., Washington, where services will be held at 10 a.m. Monday.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com.

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