Dylan Winnik spent the weekend like many a healthy 12-year-old boy. He went to a birthday party, enjoyed a home-cooked dinner at his mother’s house and watched football on Sunday.
On Monday, the Okeeheelee Middle School student came down with the flu. By Tuesday, he was dead, a tragic reminder of how dangerous the flu can be.
Dylan died at his father’s West Palm Beach home. The morning of the day he died, Dylan ate waffles for breakfast and told his father he loved him as the elder Winnik headed out for a special day — becoming a U.S. citizen at a naturalization ceremony at the fairgrounds.
How fast the flu took Dylan — who had not received a vaccination — is enough to keep every parent up at night.
Sergio Winnik said the boy returned to his West Palm Beach home on Monday morning after staying with his mother in Coral Springs over the weekend. His fever reached 102 degrees that night, but later normalized to 98 degrees. He woke up Tuesday and felt better.
Sergio Winnik, a native of Argentina, asked Dylan if he wanted to go to the citizenship ceremony, but the boy chose to stay home.
“He said, ‘I want to stay here and watch TV,’ ” Winnik said. “He was a beautiful kid. Healthy. I never saw Dylan sick.”
The father called after about an hour to check on Dylan and he did not answer. Sergio said he asked a neighbor to check on Dylan. The neighbor went inside the home near Southern Boulevard and South Military Trail and found Dylan unresponsive in the bathroom.
When Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies rushed there Tuesday afternoon, it was too late. Dylan already was dead.
Mike Medwin, the partner of Dylan’s mother, said the medical examiner confirmed to the family on Wednesday that Dylan — who he described as a “prototypical, American 12-year-old” — had contracted the flu.
Dylan was the middle child of three brothers. He played basketball and soccer and was just getting into football. Medwin joked about Dylan “looking for a girlfriend soon.”
“He was athletic, intelligent and surprisingly funny,” Medwin said. “You expect jokes from a 12-year-old might not be the funniest for an adult, but he had some real jokes.”
Medwin decided to speak to The Palm Beach Post because he wants parents to know so they can protect themselves and their children by getting the flu vaccination and feels there is a lot of confusion about the illness.
He implored parents to take the flu seriously and not feel their children are safe because they appear robust.
“Everyone thinks (the flu) is another place, another time and it will never happen to us,” he said. “But it’s here, it’s in our community and it’s serious.”
Dylan’s symptoms hadn’t seemed serious, Medwin said, and he had not gotten a flu shot this year.
“Please implore other parents to not take the flu lightly whatsoever,” Medwin said. The family has set up a GoFundMe page online to help cover funeral expenses.
David Samore, principal for Okeeheelee Middle School, said the families of students there would receive a call Wednesday night to assure them there is no flu outbreak at the school. Counselors were on hand for students and there were plans Thursday to discuss Dylan’s death with the student body at Okeeheelee’s monthly “house meeting.”
“This has been a difficult day for all of us at Okeeheelee Middle School,” Samore wrote in a letter to parents.
Samore added that Dylan “touched many lives in a special way.”
Statewide, nearly 3,000 people have died either from pneumonia or influenza this flu season. Across the country, at least 30 children have died from the flu this season, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report analyzing data through Jan. 13. Flu season begins in November.
Dr. Dr. Jaime Snarski, assistant medical director for the emergency department at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center, said the hospital has been so inundated with patients that a storage area has been cleared out to take care of them.
“The hospital has been full for the last three days. There are no beds,” she said. “There is nowhere for us to put admitted patients.”
Patients waiting in the ER have been issued gauze face masks in hopes of containing the virus.
Other hospitals are also feeling the sting of the flu.
“Boca Raton Regional Hospital has experienced a large uptick in flu-like cases across all age groups,” according to Dr. Aryeh Pessah, medical director of the hospital’s Wold Family Center for Emergency Medicine. Patients are coming in with symptoms of body aches, fever, coughing and nausea.
“Our experience seems to be mirroring that of all hospitals in Palm Beach County and across the state,” said hospital spokeswoman Alexandra Shilling.
The prevalent strain this flu season is type A, H3N2 and it’s no surprise it is taking its toll. Australia and New Zealand took the brunt of it with some high-profile deaths of children. In the United Kingdom, this year’s virus has been dubbed the “Aussie flu.”
“We are definitely getting morecases this year in general,” Snarski said. “For some relatively healthy people, it is hitting them a little harder.”
It’s important that at the first signs of flu that medical attention is sought. Medicines such as Tamiflu can’t do much good after 72 hours of symptoms, Snarski said.
Miss that window and the disease must be ridden out by staying in bed and keeping hydrated. Go to the hospital when a fever spikes to 103 or 104 degrees. Severe dehydration, a racing heart, shortness of breath and feeling dizzy are more reasons for an ER visit, she said.
Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center says most of its flu cases are from people who did not get a vaccination. Some patients did get vaccinated and still got sick, but Snarski said at the very least a flu shot will make the disease less severe.
She also noted that it is not too late to get a vaccination.
The subject of an intense marketing blitz by retailers of late, the flu shot now is offered by Publix, CVS and Walgreens, among others. An inoculation can also be had through medical professionals, such as the family doctor.
WANT TO HELP?
A GoFundMe page page to help cover Dylan’s funeral expenses has been established at https://www.gofundme.com/dylanwinnik
Reporter Olivia Hitchcock contributed to this story.