By all accounts, Max Schwolert was a healthy teenager who loved to play golf and share his sense of humor. But on Saturday, the 17-year-old from Texas died of complications of the flu at a St. Paul hospital, just days after falling ill, according to his family.
Max, who had been visiting relatives in Wisconsin, apparently developed a staph infection along with the flu, and the combination turned deadly, said his uncle, Phil Schwolert.
"It just accelerated so rapidly, and there was just no catching up with it," his uncle said.
The Minnesota Department of Health on Wednesday confirmed that the teenager had died of complications of influenza -- the state's third confirmed flu death this season.
"It's a horrible thing," said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the Minnesota state epidemiologist. "We do see these cases, and that's what we worry about."
The Health Department has warned that flu cases have been surging for weeks, filling hospitals and emergency rooms.
Lynfield said there's no evidence that this year's flu strain is more dangerous than those in recent years. But it's well known that the flu can set the stage for pneumonia and other potentially deadly infections, such as staph, even in healthy young people.
"It absolutely can be a deadly combination," she said. "We see a few cases every year."
Max Schwolert, who was a senior at Marcus High School in suburban Dallas, started feeling ill on Christmas Eve, his uncle said, while he and his family were spending the holidays with his grandparents, Dixie and Dave Teig, in Amery, Wis.
"They were supposed to drive back to Texas on the 26th," said Phil Schwolert. Instead, after Max spent the night vomiting and "just really feeling bad," he went to a doctor.
Max was flown by a medical helicopter to Regions when tests showed that he had pneumonia and that "things were escalating," his uncle said.
At the hospital, doctors struggled to treat his worsening condition, including respiratory distress, dangerously low blood pressure and kidney failure, his uncle said. In spite of a few glimmers of hope, Max had a toxic staph infection that no one could stop.
'A healthy kid'
Some 35 relatives and friends gathered at his bedside for a prayer service on Saturday night. He was then taken off of life support, Phil Schwolert said.
"This was a healthy kid. He didn't just get the flu and die from a severe flu," his uncle said.
"The combination of the two [infections] is what overwhelmed his body. That's a message we want to get out."
The hospital, citing privacy law, declined to comment on the case.
Max had not had a flu shot, his uncle said, and the family is encouraging people to get vaccinated.
But he said the boy's parents, Tom and Melanie Schwolert, want Max to be remembered for the way he lived rather than the way he died.
Max, the middle of three children, was athletic and "fun loving" and brought out the best in other people, his uncle said. He was active in Faith Lutheran Church in Flower Mound, Texas, where his father is a youth pastor.
A memorial service was held Monday at Hosanna Lutheran Church in Forest Lake, where his father was pastor when Max was born in 1995.
A funeral service will be held Saturday in his hometown in Texas.
Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384