‘This is a rare event:’ 6-year-old girl’s death stemmed from flu complications

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio - A 6-year-old Rocky River girl died after battling a rare and severe form of a neurological disease stemming from the flu.

Eva Harris was admitted to the Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital with a fever of 105 degrees on Tuesday. Doctors learned her body's response to the flu had attacked her brain, according to a statement from the clinic.

Eva developed a severe form of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) or acute necrotizing encephalopathy of the childhood (ANEC), the clinic said. The disease did not appear to be caused by a single infectious agent and the case was extremely rare.

The Ohio Department of Health said the case marked the third flu-related death of a child in the state in the last two weeks.

“ADEM or acute disseminated encephalomyelitis are big terms which basically means that there's inflammation of portions of the brain,” said Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital pediatric neurologist Dr. Max Wiznitzer. “We have to remember this is a very rare event. We usually only see a few per year.”

Eva was in the kindergarten at Goldwood Primary School in Rocky River and participated in gymnastics at Great Lakes Gymnastics in Avon Lake, according to a Facebook post by Eva's mother in a Rocky River Community page.

“She was the life of the class. She came in every day with a big smile,” said Tom Ward, owner of Great Lakes Gymnastics, who said Eva’s two older sisters also take part in gymnastics. “She was always the one at the end of the class that gave all of her classmates a hug before they went home, so that's just the type of person she was.”

"We are truly humbled by the outpouring of love, prayers and support from the community for our beloved daughter, Eva Harris," parents Jimsey Cary and Alex Harris said in a statement from the clinic. "While this is a very difficult time for our family, we are extremely grateful for Eva's medical team.”

The community was offering support, including meals, for the family. The Facebook post said a memorial will be held at St. Christopher's Church in Rocky River.

Wiznitzer said symptoms of ADEM include unexplained change in consciousness, impaired movement, seizure and sensory changes. He said the best way to prevent a virus that can lead to ADEM is to make sure vaccinations are up to date.

“Why it selects one individual compared to the other, we're not quite certain as to the reasons, but it's not something people should be concerned about that because your child gets the flu, you're automatically going to end up with this condition,” he said.