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5-year-old dies suddenly of invasive Strep A — what her mom wants you to know

Quintessence Henderson — Quin to her loved ones — "had a smile and a hug and a greeting for anybody."

split screen of little girl, 5-year-old girl from Kitchener ontario Quintessence Henderson, who died of pneumonia and a Strep A infection (iGAS) posing against fence and laying on ground with pet
Quintessence Henderson, 5, died on March 25, 2023, of complications of pneumonia and a Strep A infection (iGAS) (Photos via Christina Hecktus).

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Christina Hecktus is living every parent's worst nightmare. Her daughter died suddenly on March 25 of complications of pneumonia and a Strep A infection (iGAS). She was only five years old.

Quintessence Henderson — Quin to her loved ones — "had a smile and a hug and a greeting for anybody," Christina told Yahoo Canada.

"I have no words for how amazing this world would have been with her in it had she been able to be here."

Earlier this month, Quintessence came down with a "run of the mill" cold. A few days later, she had a fever, but her parents, Christina and Kirk Henderson, were able to bring her temperature down with over-the-counter medication.

Christina Hecktus and Kirk Henderson and Quintessence Henderson. 5 year old kitchener ontario girl dies of pneumonia and Strep A infection
Christina Hecktus and Kirk Henderson took their 5-year-old daughter to the hospital on March 25. (Photo via Christina Hecktus).

Doctors told the Kitchener, Ont. parents their daughter likely had a "secondary cold" and the ER "may not be needed." However, on March 25, Quintessence woke up with a raspy chest and shallow breathing, so they took her to the hospital.

'In my brain, I'm like, we're overreacting'

"It had never occurred to me that she was this sick," Christina said. "I'm thinking they're going to treat her with something for dehydration and maybe give her a puffer for her cough; nothing too serious. We're overreacting. In my brain, I'm like, we're overreacting."

At the hospital, Quintessence took a turn for the worse and was diagnosed with pneumonia and sepsis. Her pediatrician gave her a 50/50 chance of survival.

Quintessence Henderson, 5, wearing green t-shirt and green shorts laying and snuggling with pet on floor
Quintessence Henderson "had a smile and a hug and a greeting for anybody." (Photo via Christina Hecktus).

"That was the first time it really sunk in that she may not make it," Christina said.

Within 12 hours of going to the hospital, Quintessence passed away.

'It happened so fast'

"It happened so fast," Christina said over the phone. "We lost our little girl."

The following day, Public Heralth Ontario reached out for contact tracing. Quintessence's bloodwork returned positive for an invasive Strep A infection — the same bacteria that led to a Hamilton, Ont. two-year-old's death in early March.

What is Strep A?

Group A Strep (short for Group A streptococcus) is a common bacterial infection that grows inside the nose, throat and sometimes on the skin.

Group A Strep (GAS) tends to infect the upper respiratory tract, causing strep throat and sinus infections. However, it can also cause skin and soft tissue infections such as impetigo and cellulitis or scarlet fever.

What is invasive Group A streptococcus?

Group A Strep infections typically result in strep throat. GAS are called "non-invasive" because the infection is on the parts of the body that are exposed to the outside world, like the throat or skin, according to the government of Canada.

"Although Group A Strep can be easily treated with antibiotics, infections can become very dangerous if they become 'invasive,'" says Irene Martin, the head of the Streptococcus and STI Unit at the Public Health Agency of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory.

"Group A Strep becomes invasive when it infects blood or internal body tissues, and it can cause illnesses such as meningitis or flesh-eating disease."

Bloodwork later showed that Quintessence had invasive Group A streptococcal, an infection that killed at least three children in Canada late last year.

How does Strep A spread?

Strep A is highly contagious and easily spreads from person to person. GAS bacteria can spread through close contact with someone with strep, sharing food and drinks, or breathing in their respiratory droplets. As the bacteria transmits via person-to-person contact, it easily spreads among family or household members.

Strep throat is most common in children ages five to 15; however, anyone can get it.

What are symptoms of Strep A?

While symptoms vary depending on the type of infection, Health Canada says the main signs of non-invasive Group A streptococcus (GAS) include fever, a sore throat and mild skin conditions such as a rash, sores, bumps and blisters.

Invasive infections (iGAS) can include severe symptoms like trouble breathing (pneumonia), a breakdown of the skin and connective tissues (necrotizing fasciitis), a fever, a drop in blood pressure, vomiting and diarrhea (toxic shock syndrome).

male doctor wearing glasses, mask and gloves putting wooden stick into child's mouth wearing mask and striped shirt
Symptoms of GAS may include a fever, sore throat, and mild skin conditions such as a rash, sores, bumps and blisters (Getty).

Strep A cases rising in Canada

Some Canadian officials reported an uptick in invasive Group A streptococcus infections in Dec. 2022, echoing rising case numbers in the U.S. and Europe.

According to a Public Health Ontario report, the number of iGAS infections between October and November 2022 was "higher than the number of cases reported in this age group during the same months between the 2016-17 and 2019-20 seasons."

As of Feb. 28, 2023, the "incidence rate is higher across all age groups in the current season."

The rise in iGAS cases is likely linked to the increase in RSV and flu viruses hitting kids, the World Health Organization said in a December 2022 news release.

'Don't be afraid to take your kids in'

"I want parents not to feel that their concerns are not warranted, even if it's a cough," Christina said. "I didn't want to be an inconvenience and because I didn't want to be an inconvenience and I was following the rules, my little girl isn't here anymore."

"Don't be afraid to take your kids in," she said. "Just do it. If a healthy 5-year-old can turn in 12 hours, I don't want anyone else to go through that."

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