BURNHAM - Four months ago, 2-year-old Cathrynne Wagner could be found munching on M&Ms, watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and playing with her big brother Cody.
Four months ago Cathrynne's father, Tom, referred to her as "Daddy's chicken nugget," and the babysitter considered her "short stuff with an attitude."
And then, four months ago, on April 29, Cathrynne died suddenly from Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle caused by infection. Today would have been her third birthday.
Photo submitted by JEN?WAGNER
Cathrynne Wagner poses for the camera as she readies for daycare during a chilly November morning in 2011. She passed away from Myocarditis six months later. Her family his holding a fundraiser, awareness event in her memory Saturday, which includes a motorcycle and a release of butterfly balloons.
"This disease is horrible because it comes out of nowhere," said Jen Wagner, Cathrynne's mother. "Kids get sick all the time with a stomach ache or runny nose. To have that lead to a sudden death within days is awful. Not to know why they died is even worse."
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Myocarditis is caused by a viral, bacterial or fungal infection that reaches the heart. When the infection enters the heart, disease-fighting cells follow it. However, the chemicals produced by an immune response can damage the heart muscle, causing it to become thick, swollen and weak leading to symptoms of heart failure.
Cathrynne starting vomiting on April 26 and was taken to the pediatrician on April 27. She was given anti-nausea medicine and spent the next day relaxing at home and trying to keep fluids down. Though it looked like things were getting better, Cathrynne awoke on April 29 with a rapid heartbeat and labored breathing. She was rushed to Lewistown Hospital where she was diagnosed with pneumonia and then quickly went into respiratory arrest. After an hour of CPR, Cathrynne passed away.
"She was only sick for three days," Wagner said. "Six weeks after her death we received an autopsy report saying that my little girl had died of Myocarditis, not pneumonia. No one had even brought that up when she was sick."
There is no known way to prevent Myocarditis, said Dr. Prakash Patel, cardiologist with Lewistown Cardiology Associates in Burnham. There is no vaccine or a gold standard to diagnose Myocarditis ahead of time, he said.
"We can do chest X-rays, blood work, echo cardiograms and heart biopsy to try to diagnose the patient," Patel said. "But most often, the cause of death as Myocarditis is determined during an autopsy or after someone is already sick."
Early symptoms consist of shortness of breath, fatigue, fever and indigestion, Patel said. Once the heart begins to fail, symptoms escalate to include syncope, irregular heartbeat and swelling of the legs.
"Though Myocarditis is relatively uncommon, it is usually found as the cause for sudden death instances in children," Patel said.
In memory of Cathrynne, and in celebration of her birthday the Wagner family will be holding a fundraising and awareness event on Sept. 8. It will begin with a motorcycle ride from the Yoder Zimmerman VFW to the McClure American Legion and end at the Wagners' house in Burnham. Once the riders arrive, Cathrynne's family and friends will release butterfly balloons that carry postcards featuring Cathrynne's story and information on Myocarditis.
Proceeds will come from rider registration, which is $10 a person, and go toward the Myocarditis Foundation. The organization is a non-profit dedicated to providing accurate and current information to medical professionals, patients and families, as well as to the scientific advancement of diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
"Cathrynne cared about everyone around her and always had a smile on her face," Wagner said. "We are hoping that telling her story will inspire people to donate for further research. We don't want to see another family go through the same thing."
Contact Jen and Tom Wagner at 242-2592 to register as a rider. Outside donations can be sent to PO Box 24, Burnham. For more information on Myocarditis, visit myocarditisfoundation.org.