A Medford 14-year-old died early Tuesday morning after a weeklong battle with a viral infection that settled in her heart.
Doctors say Katie Richards' heart failure was a rare complication of the viral infection, called myocarditis, which began with mild cold-like symptoms a week ago Monday.
Katie, who recently finished the eighth grade at Hedrick Middle School and was described as a healthy, active teenager until becoming ill, was rushed to Rogue Valley Medical Center when the symptoms worsened that day. A doctor there arranged for her transfer to Portland's Oregon Health & Science University, where she died this morning.
"I just want to thank everyone in Medford for their prayers and their support," said her father, Curtis Richards. "And I wanted to let them know that Katie fought all the way.
"The people (doctors) up here were just fantastic. Doctor (Matthew) Hough down in Medford ... I just can't praise him enough. Everything they did helped us have another seven days with her."
Dr. Michael Silberbach, a professor of pediatric cardiology at OHSU and Doernbecher Children's Hospital, explained that there are two types of myocarditis. One form is called acute myocarditis, which can linger for weeks or even months before a person shows symptoms. In the other, fulminate myocarditis, a virus strikes suddenly, making a healthy-seeming person deathly ill within a day or two.
Silberbach told the Mail Tribune last week that the sudden infection that struck Katie was extremely rare and he had never seen anything like it.
He added that it's unknown why some people develop the deadly infection from common viruses, but it seems to have to do with an abnormality in their immune system. If such patients survive the initial heart failure, they often recover completely, while patients with the slower moving acute myocarditis can suffer lasting heart damage.
Silberbach said patients must be treated aggressively to keep their blood circulating.
Twice from late Monday night until Katie's death in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, doctors used a defibrillator to bring her back from cardiac arrest. Curtis Richards said it took longer and longer to bring her heart back to normal rates each time.
Katie's father has asked that an autopsy be performed on his daughter to determine the cause of the virus. OHSU performs autopsies by request without charge.
Jackson County sheriff's detective Rick Valentine, whose daughter is friends with the Richards family, has established a Katie Richards Medical Fund at Rogue Federal Credit Union. Donations can be made at any branch.
Valentine and his daughter were by Katie's side over the weekend.
He said the fund will remain active to help Richards and his two daughters — Amber, who is just weeks away from turning 13, and Ashley, 11.
"It's just to help her family," Valentine said. "It's more of a memorial fund now."
With aspirations of a career in medicine, Katie was a member of the Hedrick honor roll and the National Junior Honor Society.
Curtis Richards said the tight-knit family will have a gaping hole in Katie's absence, adding that his daughter "was such a special kid."
Reach intern Bob Albrecht at 776-8791 or e-mail email@example.com.