26-year-old Canadian woman dies after catching dengue fever in Jamaica

TORONTO — A 26-year-old Ontario woman died after contracting dengue fever while attending a friend’s destination wedding in Jamaica.

Jodie Dicks from Toronto, Ont., contracted a severe case of dengue fever while attending her friend’s destination wedding in Jamaica. After spending a few days in a Jamaican hospital, she was flown to a Florida medical centre, where she suffered two heart attacks and died in her mother’s arms on Jan. 26.

“It is devastating and we’re in shock. It was like a nightmare,” her stepmother Kay Dicks said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.

Jodie had just paid off her new car, bought a condominium, was ready to marry the love of her life, Kerrian Walker, and have children of her own, Dicks said.

The family said no one ever used terms like “step-parent” or “step-sibling.” Jodie was a big part of that tight family unity.

“You hear people say ‘the sweetest soul’ and she truly was,” Jodie’s stepfather Randy Boissoin told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. It was common for Jodie to relish being surrounded by her nieces and nephews.

“At family gatherings, she’d be out and about — swimming with three kids on her back, or catching frogs (with them),” Boissoin said, describing how he helped raise her for 20 years. “She was that incredible aunt.”

Her obituary said, “Jodie loved being an aunt and accepted this role willingly.”

“She was an adorable kid. And everybody loved her,” Dicks said. Jodie’s death “has broken the entire family. Broken every single one of us inside.”

JODIE COULDN’T RECOGNIZE HER OWN FRIEND

On Thursday, Jan. 16, Jodie flew with her best friend to Jamaica for the destination wedding. But by Tuesday, the day after the ceremony, her family said Jodie had started feeling unwell.

She began developing a rash, a common symptom of dengue fever, but was told it was likely a heat rash.

Jodie was supposed to leave the following Thursday and had even packed her luggage to go home.

But her condition worsened.

“She was all confused. She didn’t know where she was. She didn’t know who she was,” Dicks said, adding Jodie didn’t even recognize her childhood friend.

After hearing the news, Jodie’s stepfather, biological mother and Jodie’s long-time boyfriend all rushed to Jamaica to be by her side. Her memory of them had faded to the point that she had difficulty remembering them.

Jodie had been receiving blood and plasma transfusions, but Dicks said that because the hospital was running out of blood she had to be moved to a hospital in Florida.

JODIE DIED IN HER MOTHER’S ARMS

Only Jodie’s biological mother was able to go with her on the emergency medical helicopter. So Jodie’s stepfather and boyfriend were forced to wait for another flight in a Jamaican airport.

And after receiving more blood transfusions, Jodie took a turn for the worse and suffered two cardiac arrests. During all the commotion, her mother rushed into the room to hold her.

“And she died there with her mother at her side,” Dicks said.

Jodie’s stepfather said it was heartbreaking not being there.

“For your daughter to pass away and your wife to be there by herself and you’re stuck sitting in an airport in Jamaica — you just can’t find words for it,” Boissoin said, posting about the ordeal on Facebook.

At Jodie’s memorial service on Feb. 9, approximately 700 people showed up to pay their respects, including officers from Peel Region, York Region and Toronto police. Jodie had worked at Legal Aid Ontario and with Toronto police.

“All sides were full. Right through the sidewalk and into the parking lot, there were lines in the streets,” Dicks said of the Oshawa, Ont. service. “It went on and on.”

WARNING FOR OTHER FAMILIES

The family is now warning people to take precautions before going to the region and ensure they check travel advisories before leaving Canada.

Dr. Melissa Lem, a Vancouver-based family physician, told CTVNews.ca that the “dengue vaccine is not available in Canada, but if you manage to get it in another country it’s considered about 70 per cent effective.”

She also said people have a stronger chance of contracting dengue fever in countries with warmer climates. Lem is also suggesting travellers look for warnings from accredited government websites before buying a ticket.

Mosquitos are the primary way the virus is spread, Lem said. Symptoms for dengue fever include a sudden high fever, rash, nausea, swollen glands and pain in the bones, joints and eyes.

“There are no specific treatments for dengue other than rest, fluids and acetaminophen,” she said, warning people to wear insect repellent, light clothing with long sleeves and long pants.

Dicks said she doesn’t want this to happen to other families.

“We were shocked. We never heard about it [dengue fever]. A lot of people haven’t,” Dicks said. “This has to be known so people can know what could happen.”

Infectious disease expert Dr. Neil Rau said travellers often forget about the mosquito risks when they travel to resorts.

“The advice that travellers receive to prevent malaria, also helps prevent zika virus and dengue virus,” he told CTV National News.

“I think travellers forget about these risks because they seem relatively minor and infrequent.

“There is one advantage on resorts and it’s that air conditioning is readily available and that actually protects you against mosquito-borne disease.”

He added that screened-in porches are also good protection against mosquitoes.

“Many Canadians go down south and they’re ready to face that risk, it’s important for people to remember it is out there,” Dr. Rau said.

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