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Father struggles with son's death from flu

Paul Frustaglio sat on the front step of his Etobicoke home Tuesday still stunned to find himself accepting condolences for his son's death.

It had all happened so quickly. On Saturday, his 13-year-old son Evan was sick with the flu, but still playing hockey. By Monday morning, Mr. Frustaglio was holding his son's limp body in his arms, trying frantically to revive him.

After patiently giving dozens of interviews, the grief finally overwhelmed him. As he embraced a friend outside his home, he let out a long, painful cry that echoed along the quiet suburban street.

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"My boy is gone," he said. "My God, my baby. He's gone."

He described his son as an independent free spirit and a leader among his peers. He was a hard-charging hockey player who nicknamed himself "Evan the edge," and who until this year had always worn the 93 jersey in tribute to Doug Gilmour.

Evan attended Hill Academy, a school with a sports emphasis, in Vaughan, and played hockey for the Mississauga North Stars.

It was at a hockey tournament in London, Ont., over the weekend that he fell ill. A classmate said Evan had complained of a sore back late last week. By the time he and his mother, a registered nurse, arrived in London Friday night, he was feeling worse. He played brilliantly in the game that night, but the next morning his back pain intensified and he developed a sore throat and fever. His coach, Al Reisman, said Evan was held out of long stretches during his two games Saturday, but was still among the team's best players.

His mother went to a pharmacy in London that day. The pharmacist recommended some over-the-counter medications for his sore throat and pain.

Evan called his father that night, angry that his team had been knocked out of the tournament. His father, who runs an endoscopy clinic, was coaching Evan's 10-year-old brother's team and couldn't make it to London to see him play. After dinner, Evan's illness worsened. He vomited during the night. His mother decided to pack up and return to Toronto at 4:30 a.m.

Around 2 p.m., she took him to a walk-in clinic at the Six Points plaza in Etobicoke. The clinic is an MCI Doctor's Office, part of a chain of clinics in Ontario, Alberta and B.C. Evan vomited while he waited to be seen.

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"The doctor said his lungs are fine and that he's breathing okay. He's got slight redness in his throat. But he didn't feel at this juncture there was any reason to prescribe any medications like antibiotics or Tamiflu," Mr. Frustaglio said.

Evan continued to vomit overnight. By Monday morning, he was feeling a little better. Around 11 a.m., he asked his father to draw him a bath.

"I just wasn't happy with the way he took the bath. He went from him being reasonable in the morning to lethargic. He had a sort of heat rash on his leg. I said I don't like that. Father's intuition, I just didn't feel good about it," he said.

A few minutes later, Mr. Frustaglio was about to dial his family doctor when he heard the patter of his son's feet returning to the bathroom.

I said, "Evan where are you going? And he said, "I'm just going to the bathroom, Dad." I said, 'You okay?' and he said, "Yeah, I'm okay."

Mr. Frustaglio walked downstairs to find Evan curled up on the floor. At first he thought he was trying to ease his fever on the cool, marble tile. He tried to help his son to his feet.

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"I start picking him up and he collapses. And that's it," his father said, fighting back tears. "The way he collapsed in my arms, he had nothing. His body just went limp."

Paramedics arrived within minutes to rush Evan to hospital, but he never regained consciousness.

He is the sixth child to die in Ontario of H1N1 influenza since April. Toronto Public Health said he also suffered from mild asthma, but what's shocked many observers is how quickly he died. He was an otherwise healthy boy and an excellent athlete with no serious underlying medical conditions.

His coach, Mr. Reisman, said his teammates are devastated. At least two of them are also in quarantine, and Mr. Reisman said he has fallen ill with flu, though he doesn't know if it's H1N1.

A distraught Mr. Frustaglio said he doesn't know how he'll get by without his son, whom he called his best friend.

"Every day was a memory with my son," he said. "Me waking him up, driving him to school, saying goodbye. Him calling me during the day, why am I late from work, hurry up and get home I'm waiting for you, Dad. Everywhere I went he called me. I talked to my kid a thousand times a day."

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About the Authors
Demographics Reporter

Joe Friesen writes about immigration, population, culture and politics. He was previously the Globe's Prairie bureau chief. More

Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

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