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Sunday, September 23 News

Norwalk mourns death of 6-year-old who died of flu-related illness

NORWALK — Those who knew 6-year-old Emma Splan remember her as a vibrant girl who always smiled, laughed and enjoyed life. That’s because kindness was a priority for the Columbus Magnet School first-grader.

She just started receiving an allowance about a month ago and made sure her parents saved half of her first payment to give to children who might need it, like the two girls she knew who didn’t have as much as her, a family friend said.

She also made sure everyone was included, quickly befriending anyone she interacted with. If there ever was someone alone at the playground, she would immediately invite him or her to play.

Emma also enjoyed dancing and was an animal lover. A beginner reader, she started to spend time at the humane society reading to cats.

“You’ve never met a six-year-old who cared more about how others were being treated. She was very conscious of that,” said Sarah Lutkus, a close friend of Emma’s mother, Christy. Lutkus came from Florida to be with the family.

Emma was diagnosed with the flu Thursday and died unexpectedly early Sunday from complications, even though she received a flu shot long before then, Lutkus said.

Emma was brought to Stamford Hospital on Saturday because she started vomiting and was later transferred to Yale-New Haven Hospital later that night.

“She was alert at the point when she was in the ambulance and when she first got to Yale,” Lutkus said. “And then she wasn’t.”

News of Emma's tragic death has filled the community with sadness and heartbreak, leading to an outpouring of support for the family. A family friend created a GoFundMe page in Emma’s honor Sunday, raising more than $29,000 in less than 24 hours. The initial $25,000 goal was raised to $50,000 on Monday. Hundreds had donated, many posting personal messages of support to the family.

“Our hearts are broken and we pray for peace and love to you and your family,” one Columbus Magnet School family wrote.

“Emma was a very special little girl who made everyone around her feel special too,” another person wrote.

Families from the tight-knit community of Columbus Magnet School seemed to be still processing the tragedy at the family skate day Monday morning at the SoNo Ice House.

Although Ed Kasparek and his family did not personally know Emma, he said the school is a community loves and cares for every student. His daughter is one of the few hundred students who attend the school.

“The principal even said he’d be there in the morning to give hugs to everyone,” Kasparek said. “It’s all about being together and being together as a family and community, and to stay positive and move forward.”

Kasparek said it is also hard to face the reality of how widespread the flu is this season. Although both his children received flu shots, he worries about their safety and health.

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“We’re already scared, we’re already worried about the flu, because it’s going around Connecticut. It’s widespread,” he said. “And now it’s in our school, and that makes us nervous.”

A deep cleaning took place at Columbus Magnet School before school resumed Tuesday, according to school Principal Medard Thomas. The district’s facilities department also added a more aggressive disinfectant to the school’s cleaning supplies, which school custodians will continue to use in the coming weeks — with particular attention on “high touch” areas, Thomas noted. Counselors were also available to help staff, parents and students.

Emma’s death is likely the state’s second child flu death of the season, about a month after 10-year-old Nico Mallozzi from New Canaan died of flu-related illness Jan. 14. As of Feb. 10, there had been only one death of someone aged 5 to 18, according to the state Department of Health’s most recent flu statistics.

Overall, at least 77 people in Connecticut have died of flu-related illness — the highest number of influenza-associated deaths reported in the past five years.

To make a donation to the Splan family, visit www.gofundme.com/emmasplan.

skim@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2568; @stephaniehnkim

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