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Pennsylvania Paramedic, Dispatcher Felled by H1N1

As a paramedic and dispatcher with a Fayette County ambulance service, David P. Sechrist dedicated his life to helping others.

The 30-year-old Vanderbilt man died Saturday of complications from the H1N1 flu, according to his family.

Despite his untimely passing, Sechrist continues to help others, with his death raising awareness of the importance of flu shots, his family said.

"He got H1N1 from direct contact, so it had to be from somebody in this area," said his father, Rod Sechrist of Dawson.

"Hopefully, we'll help somebody else," he said. "H1N1 is a big misconception at this point. Even at the hospital, they said they hadn't seen H1N1 in months."

Flu cases are on the rise in Pennsylvania, according to the state health department's most recent report.

As of the week ending Feb. 12, there were 1,898 flu cases reported, up from the previous week's tally of 1,632. Flu activity is statewide, but the department noted "significant increases were reported in the southwestern regions."

Of 45 flu specimens sent to the state lab for testing, 60 percent were the H1N1 virus, according to the department's website. Five deaths statewide were attributed to flu complications during the same reporting period, including one child.

David Sechrist's struggle with H1N1 prompted some of his co-workers at Fayette EMS to take advantage of free flu shots available through the ambulance company, said Director Rick Adobato. Adobato said the shot is one of the best ways to prevent flu, but many people opt not to receive one.

"My employees are just as guilty, including David," Adobato said, indicating David Sechrist had not been vaccinated.

"We've been putting shots in arms all week," Adobato said. "It's a hell of a wake-up call."

This year's flu vaccine protects against three strains of the flu virus, including H1N1, said Holli Senior, spokeswoman with the state health department. She said plenty of vaccine is still available.

"Flu season is not over," Senior said. "In January, February and March, we see a large number of flu cases."

This year, the health department is recommending the shots to everyone, not just the elderly or those with compromised immune systems. One reason for the change, Senior said, is the fact younger people have been found to be susceptible to the H1N1 virus.

David Sechrist's battle with H1N1 began with mild cold symptoms, according to his father. Within just 36 hours, David Sechrist was so ill he was placed in intensive care in a Pittsburgh hospital. A Facebook page created by his family drew thousands of supporters who prayed for his recovery.

The life-and-death struggle marked the second time the Fayette man had battled a potentially deadly health condition.

Rod Sechrist said his son beat POEMS syndrome, a rare blood disease, after a five-month hospitalization and stem-cell transplant in 2004. The illness left David Sechrist with partial vision in one eye and limited movement in his lower legs, but it didn't stop him from obtaining a degree in echocardiography from Community College of Allegheny County in 2009.

Rod Sechrist said his son was offered a job in echocardiography, but he turned it down.

"He decided his heart was in EMS," Rod Sechrist said.

Adobato said Fayette EMS will give flu shots to anyone who wants one, as long as they have vaccine available. Senior said the shots are available at various other locations, including doctors' offices and businesses that host flu-shot clinics.

While the vaccine won't guarantee immunity from the flu, Senior said, it can result in less severe symptoms in those who develop it.

"You can't get flu from the flu shot," she said. "That's a myth."


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