The father of the young New Jersey boy who died from enterovirus D68 spoke out for the first time Sunday, saying his son was "full of unconditional love."
Eli Waller, 4, of Mercer County, died in his sleep Sept. 25. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told New Jersey health officials Friday that Waller, the youngest of triplets, tested positive for enterovirus 68 but were unsure what role the virus played in his death at that time.
By late Friday evening, however, the Waller family learned the virus took the life of the young boy.
"It was because of enterovirus D68," said Kelly Yaede, mayor of Hamilton Township, New Jersey, while speaking on behalf of the boy's family. "Please extend to the township our sincere appreciation ... for support our children and schools."
Officials said Walle showed no symptoms prior to his death and was only out of school one day for what appeared to be pink eye. It turned out it was enterovirus D68.
On Sunday Eli’s father Andy Waller released pictures of the boy as well as the following written tribute:
My words probably won’t capture him well, but everyone who met Eli knows how he made people feel; imagine a shy little puppy who wants only to make people proud and happy, maybe tripping a bit over his own paws, but truly full of unconditional love. He was a beautiful mix of eagerness and hesitancy, need and striving, caution and surprise, all of which were grounded in a pure, unconditional love.
The youngest of a set of triplets, born much smaller and lighter than his sisters, Eli nevertheless persevered through all the difficulties that came his way. Eli was not the type to give up, and even though things never really came easily to him, he would just plug away, day after day, practicing sounds, or movements, or skills, until he would eventually get them. He did this entirely in an effort to make his Mom and Dad proud, and we can unequivocally say that we were, and will continue to be, so very proud of our little Eli.
Eli cared deeply for his sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and his Mom and Dad. He enjoyed soccer with his best friend, and he made incredible progress through his dance classes and in school, thanks to his friends and teachers there. My wife and I simply cannot thank you all nearly enough for the roles you played in Eli’s life. And while our hearts break at his passing, our hearts also overflow with overwhelming gratitude. We want everyone to know how grateful we are for such an outpouring of love and support, not only during Eli’s life, but also after his passing. This is an incredible community in which we live, and we don’t know what to say to you all other than thank you, from the bottoms of our hearts. ...
Like so many kids his age, Eli was both nervous and excited about starting school, and it is our sincere hope that this Foundation can work to help kids in a way that will make Eli proud of us all, in the same way that we were all so proud of him. My wife and I again want to thank everyone for their tremendous love and support during these difficult days, and we hope that you all will continue to support our efforts to honor the memory of our perfect, beautiful son, Eli Thomas Waller. We love you, little buggy!
Waller also says the family is in the process of establishing a fund in Eli’s honor called The First Day of School Foundation which will provide support for students involved in Special Education.
Anyone who is interested in fundraising events for the foundation should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eli Waller attended PM Pre-K at Yardville Elementary School. Another young boy who attends morning sessions at the school also showed symptoms of EV-D68 but is recovering at home after being released from the hospital. The boy's mother, Tabatha Vassey, told NBC10 she's still awaiting test results from the CDC to see if he was infected with EV-D68.
School officials answered questions from concerned parents at Steinert High School in Trenton, New Jersey Sunday at 7 p.m. Officials at the school told NBC10 student attendance would be tracked in the days ahead and that any patterns of respiratory illness across the district would be investigated. They also told parents the school district is planning a deep clean of all facilities and authorizing any overtime for custodians to disinfect every surface.
"We just want to ensure parents we are monitoring the situation," said Dr. Tina Tan, a state epidemiologist for the New Jersey Department of Health. "We are working closely with schools and proper procedures are being followed."
The New Jersey department said the CDC also reported another confirmed case of the virus in a Middlesex County child, bringing the total count in the state to nine people who have been infected with enterovirus 68. Those cases are in Camden, Burlington, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Essex, Passaic and Sussex.
New Jersey Health Department officials did not attend Sunday night's meeting in Trenton. They told NBC10 they are not prepared to release any specific information regarding where the nine children live due to privacy laws.
The enterovirus germ is not new; most people who catch the virus experience only a runny nose and low-grade fever. It was first identified in 1962 and has caused clusters of illness before.
This year, the virus has gotten more attention because it has been linked to hundreds of severe illnesses. Beginning last month, hospitals in Kansas City, Missouri, and Chicago have received a flood of children with trouble breathing.
To avoid getting the virus, health officials recommend:
- Wash hands with soap and water.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
- Avoid kissing, hugging, and sharing cups, plates and utensils with people who are sick.
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.