HARLINGEN, Texas — This week should have been a joyous time for Judy Trunnell, a 33-year-old teacher who had just given birth to a healthy baby girl.
But the friends and relatives whose cars lined the quiet street in front of her home in a quiet subdivision Tuesday instead were mourning her, the first American citizen with swine flu to die.
“We’re grieving now,” said a woman with tear-streaked eyes who declined to give her name. Trunnell’s students and fellow school employees also were grieving.
In Maryland, her cousin told WMAR-TV in Baltimore that Trunnell had died after being hospitalized for two weeks. She slipped into a coma, and her baby was delivered by Cesarean section, Mario Zamora said.
“She was just a beautiful person, warm at heart. She worked with disabled children as a teacher,” Zamora said. “Those that knew her will always remember her.”
Texas health officials stopped short of saying that swine flu caused Trunnell’s death. State health department spokeswoman Carrie Williams said the teacher had “chronic underlying health conditions” but wouldn’t give any details.
She died early Tuesday after being hospitalized since April 19, said Leonel Lopez, Cameron County epidemiologist. She was extremely ill when she was hospitalized, said Dr. Joseph McCormick, regional dean of the University of Texas School of Public Health’s Brownsville campus.
Trunnell taught in the Mercedes Independent School District about 15 miles west of her hometown of Harlingen, a city of about 63,000 near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Mercedes school Superintendent Walter Watson said he was told early Tuesday that Trunnell died after being taken off life support. “It brings tears to my eyes to my eyes to know she won’t be with our children or hers,” he said.
“You just don’t replace people like that,” Watson said.
When students were told Tuesday that Trunnell would not be coming back, some of the older students had questions, said Travis Elementary Principal Pearl Guerrero. Some wanted to know about her baby. Others wanted to know about her 4-year-old daughter who some had met.
“She was a young lady who had everything to live for,” Guerrero said. “She was excited to have a new baby. She had so many things to look forward to and now she’s gone.”
Trunnell was first seen by a physician April 14. Doctors knew she had flu but did not know what kind, Lopez said. The area is undergoing a Type A influenza epidemic and swine flu is one variety of that, he said. She was confirmed to have swine flu shortly before she died, he said.
Trunnell’s death came as life in the areas hardest hit by the outbreak began returning to normal. In Mexico, where the new strain was first reported, many stores, restaurants and factories reopened Wednesday. And U.S. health officials on Tuesday withdrew their recommendation that schools with suspected swine flu cases shut down for two weeks.
The only other swine flu death in the U.S. was that of a Mexico City toddler who also had other health problems and had been visiting relatives in Brownsville, near Harlingen. He died last week at a Houston children’s hospital.
There have been 29 other confirmed swine flu deaths, all in Mexico. Hundreds of cases of the disease have been confirmed in several countries, but mostly in Mexico and the U.S.
Mercedes school district officials said the district would close its schools until Monday.
Associated Press writers Alicia A. Caldwell in El Paso and Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.
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