Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. custody had the flu, medical investigator says

El Paso News
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The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator said Thursday that an 8-year-old boy who died in U.S. custody on Christmas Eve tested positive for influenza B.

The medical investigator’s office cautioned in a statement that the cause of death for Felipe Gómez Alonzo, who died minutes before midnight on Dec. 24, was still under investigation, but it was determined that he had been suffering from the flu.

“Results of nasal and lung swabs have tested positive for influenza B,” the office said. “While this result indicates that the child had influenza, determining an accurate cause of death requires further evaluation of other laboratory specimens and interpreting the findings in the context of the symptoms and autopsy findings.”

The announcement came as pediatricians were raising questions about the medical care given to Felipe, who was apprehended at the border Dec. 18 with his father.

Felipe was taken to a New Mexico hospital Monday after he was coughing and “appeared to have glossy eyes,” according to a statement from CBP. The boy was originally diagnosed with a cold but was found to have a 103-degree fever and was kept for observation for an additional 90 minutes before being released and transferred to a highway checkpoint with his father Monday afternoon, according to the CBP statement.

By that evening, Felipe was vomiting, nauseous and lethargic and lost consciousness during transport back to the same hospital, according to the statement. He was pronounced dead at 11:48 p.m.

Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that while a cause of death has yet to be determined and many details are unknown, Felipe’s death highlighted the need for pediatric-trained personnel at CBP facilities.

“This child wasn’t appreciated to be as ill as he was,” she said.

Kraft added that while she was not faulting the hospital, “clearly his treatment wasn’t adequate.”

She added that CBP having pediatricians or trained staff could have impacted the boy’s treatment.

“What I can tell you is that somebody who had pediatric experience and evaluated this child would really have looked at what happened when he went to the hospital, should this child have stayed in the hospital? What were his vital signs? Did this child have influenza?” she said.

Kraft said CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan had called her this week.

“He recognizes that this is a problem,” she said. “He was willing to start the conversation, we don’t have any details beyond that.”

Felipe is the second child to die in migrant custody this month after 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, also of Guatemala, died in Border Patrol custody on Dec. 8.

Kraft said both deaths show “our border processing facilities are no place for children.”

Both Felipe and Jakelin’s death have led to calls for congressional investigations. House Democrats on Thursday released a statement calling for all evidence related to the deaths be preserved and said they would conduct hearings and oversight into the deaths and conditions in the CBP’s facilities.

Dr. Alan Shapiro, medical director and co-founder of Terra Firma, an organization that provides medical and legal services for migrant children, said such facilities have been found to have very cursory medical services, “so it’s very easy for illnesses to get missed.”

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