By Shawn Cetrone Heraldonline, South Carolina
A South Pointe High School foreign exchange student whose unexpected death in October shocked friends and family died from a rare heart infection, York County Coroner Sabrina Gast said.
An autopsy determined Hannah Hinrichsen, 16, of Germany had viral myocarditis, a viral infection of the heart muscle that affects roughly one in 10,000 people and often goes undetected.
The disease ranges in severity, said John Reed, an assistant professor of pediatric cardiology at the Medical University of South Carolina. Of those who contract it, about 15 percent must have a heart transplant or die, he said.
The infection, which generally brings symptoms similar to the flu, is difficult to detect.
Viral myocarditis is the cause in 15 percent to 20 percent of unexplained deaths of children and young adults, Reed said.
“It's an unfortunate reminder that otherwise minor viral infections can occasionally have severe consequences,” he said. “There really wasn't anything that should've been done ahead of time.”
Hinrichsen, an 11th-grader, woke up on Oct. 28 with a headache and feeling nauseous, so she stayed home from school, her host mother, Barbara Moseley, said. During the day, Moseley went to check on her to see if she was hungry and found her dead.
Moseley met Hinrichsen over the summer, after clicking on a Web ad for Youth For Understanding, a nonprofit international education program that places foreign exchange students with host families.
After a criminal background check, interviews and a home inspection, Moseley was given several student profiles to choose from. The description for Hinrichsen, who lived on a farm in northern Germany near the Baltic Sea, said she was an evangelical Christian.
“She just sounded interesting,” Moseley said in an interview with The Herald on Oct. 31.
Hinrichsen arrived in August, two weeks before school started.
An early autopsy failed to determine how she died. Gast had warned that pathologists might never find a cause. But last week, she received the final report and shared it with Moseley.
“At least now we know,” said Moseley. “I'm relieved to know what the answer is.”
Moseley said she still is grieving but is relieved to know there's nothing she could have done to prevent Hinrichsen's death.
Moseley was taken to the hospital the day after Hinrichsen's memorial at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Rock Hill. Struggling with stress and grief, she suffered a strained heart muscle. She's out of the hospital and feels better, she said.
Hinrichsen's parents, who flew in for the memorial, have kept in touch. Moseley plans to visit them next year.
In her short time at South Pointe, students said, Hinrichsen's beaming smile, quick wit and outgoing personality attracted many friends.
The day after Hinrichsen died, the school was in tears. Classes were halted. Counselors consoled students, many of whom were too distraught to focus on their lessons. Groups gathered in rooms around campus to grieve.
Dozens of Hinrichsen's friends huddled in a hallway outside the chorus room sharing memories of Hannah, trading cell phone photos and crying on each others' shoulders.
A Facebook page titled “In Loving Memory of Hannah Hinrichsen” has 1,190 members from around the world, many of whom have posted photos, video, condolences and comments about how she touched their lives.
The page's description reads: “Hannah, you were in the SP family for 3 months but you have touched many hearts forever. You always had a smile on your face, and no matter what you saw the positive in everything and everyone. We will never forget you. Your friends and families, both biological and host, are in our prayers. We love you.
“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
Register to be a donor in Ontario or Download Donor Cards from Trillium Gift of Life Network. NEW for Ontario: recycleMe.org - Learn The Ins & Outs Of Organ And Tissue Donation. Register Today! For other Canadian provinces click here
In Great Britain, register at NHS Organ Donor Register
In Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register
Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants. One tissue donor can help up to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves
Has your life been saved by an organ transplant? "Pay it forward" and help spread the word about the need for organ donation - In the U.S. another person is added to the national transplant waiting list every 11 minutes and 18 people die each day waiting for an organ or tissue transplant.