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Meningitis death took family by surprise

LaChar Warfield’s birthday gifts were still in a pink gift bag in the dining room of her parents’ East Liberty home — a denim skirt, a floral blouse, a pair of golden hoop earrings and an instant camera to take pictures of the teenager’s new hairstyle.

“She didn’t get to see what she got for her 17th birthday,” her mother, Donna Warfield, said Saturday as she showed off the presents, one by one. “I bought her a camera because I wanted to take a picture of her, because she looked so beautiful.”

The high school junior died Friday from meningitis, a fast-acting and often-deadly infection that presents itself with severe flu-like symptoms. Her shocked, grief-stricken parents spent yesterday making funeral arrangements and seeking answers.

“We have no idea why it happened,” said her father, Darrell, a claims representative for the Liberty Mutual Insurance Company who has lived in East Liberty most of his life. “We have asked that question 1,000 times. Nobody can tell us.”

Health authorities say LaChar had a form of bacterial meningitis that is considered less contagious than others. The infection typically is transmitted through close contact with secretions from the nose, mouth or throat from an infected person. It causes an inflammation of the protective membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Urgent treatment with antibiotics is essential.

LaChar complained of a headache last Monday, on the night before her birthday. Her mother gave her Tylenol and encouraged her to sleep and rest.

“I first thought she was just excited about her birthday,” said Donna, a cook in a nursing home. “She gets really excited around her birthday. She’ll go to her brother and say, ‘What did Mommy get me?’ ”

There was a short-lived improvement after taking the medicine. By Tuesday afternoon, LaChar developed a fever that reached about 104 degrees and her parents took her to the emergency room at nearby West Penn Hospital.

By Wednesday, LaChar was unresponsive in an intensive care unit. She died at 2:25 p.m. Friday, according to the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office. A coroner’s spokesman said yesterday an official cause of death is still pending.

LaChar had made it clear to her parents she wanted to go to college and become a lawyer. She’d been on the honor roll several times at Oliver High School on the North Side and enrolled in a special pre-law program there.

“She was really good in school,” said Tionna Dorsey, 16, of Beltzhoover, one of her classmates and closest friends. “She was an enjoyment to have in class.”

It wasn’t unusual to see LaChar wearing a football jersey with the name of her idol, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress. She met Burress at least four times, and a photo of the two is proudly displayed in a large wooden frame in her bedroom.

The Warfields, who have an 11-year-old son, Darrell II, said they want their daughter to be remembered as a fun, loving and smart person.

“We don’t know how we’re going to pick up,” her father said. “We don’t know what we’re going to do to get through this.”


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