Thursday, February 13, 2003

St. Thomas mourns loss of student

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer


UNION TWP. - Students and teachers at St. Thomas More School in Withamsville were in mourning Wednesday after losing one of their own.

Ten-year-old Pete Tekulve's death was sudden and shocking.

According to his aunt, Alix Bono, 28, of Erlanger, preliminary autopsy reports indicate the boy died of a viral infection that spread to his heart. That disorder, myocarditis, inflames and weakens the heart and eventually causes it to stop beating.

The son of Mark and Ann Tekulve of Clermont County's Union Township, Pete had no previous medical conditions.

"It's very rare, and it's not contagious," said Bono, a nurse, who spoke for the family. "There was nothing that his parents could have done differently than they already did."

Pete attended school up until Feb. 6 (Friday and Monday were snow days). He became ill Saturday - his symptoms included lethargy and a slight fever - and he was still sick a couple days later. On Tuesday, after the fourth-grader was brought to a family doctor, he was taken by ambulance to Mercy Hospital Anderson, where he died.

Principal Peg Fischer received the call about Pete's death from his father about noon Tuesday.

"It was just devastating," she said. "It was so fast."

Such a death is "highly unusual" said Karen Kuhn, a spokeswoman for Mercy Health Partners, which owns Mercy Anderson.

Mercy referred the case to the Clermont County coroner - the family lives in that county - which in turn sent the body Tuesday to the Hamilton County coroner for an investigation to determine the cause of death. .

The death has been difficult for the St. Thomas More School community. The Catholic school houses kindergarten through eighth grade in Withamsville.

"When you have a loss like this, it's heartbreaking," Fischer said. "The whole family has been very active in the parish, and the impact of this on the community is tremendous."

In the school of 285 children, almost everyone knew Pete. Three of his siblings go there - Beth is in eighth grade, Joe is in sixth and Eddie is in second. Older brother Charlie is a sophomore at McNicholas High School in Mount Washington, while younger sister Emily is 4 years old.

Though Pete was a quiet child, he was very active. He was a Cub Scout, a good student and a winning boxcar derby racer. He was a slight boy - "a wiry little guy," Fischer said - with short, brownish hair. He was well-liked by his classmates, she said.

On Wednesday, Fischer had the difficult task of helping the music teacher select music to be played at a memorial service for the child. Their first choice was obvious, she said.

"He loved `Sing to the Mountains,' and every time he was in music class, he'd ask to sing it," Fischer said. "It's a joyful song - a lot like Pete."

The entire school attended a special Mass Wednesday morning, as well as a prayer service in the afternoon, both to honor Pete.

The Clermont County Crisis Response Team brought in 17 counselorsfor teachers, students and parents, with one specifically assigned to the classroom of Bethany Houlehan, Pete's primary teacher. (Fifth-grade teacher Theresa Rein also taught him some subjects.) The counselors will be available as long as necessary.

"It's a very scary thing," Fischer said. "To hear that a classmate was throwing up and then died is frightening for them."

Though the death has come as a surprise to the students, they are handling it with strength, she said.

"They're tough," Fischer said. "It's because we're a people of faith. We don't believe death is the end."

Visitation will be 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at the E.C. Nurre Funeral Home in Amelia. The funeral service will be 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Thomas More Church in Withamsville.

Tim Bonfield contributed to this story.


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