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Victim in meningitis scare identified

ST. PETERSBURG — Wendy Elizabeth Wrucha loved her work and loved knowing she made a difference in children's lives.

That sentiment was included in an obituary notice for the 42-year-old speech therapist at All Children's Hospital, who died Monday after contracting a dangerous bloodstream infection that can cause meningitis.

Her identity was not publicly known until Thursday, when the obituary was published in both the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune.

The obituary paints a picture of a woman who was dedicated to her work at the pediatric hospital, and had a variety of interests, including marathon running, reading, paddle boarding, playing the flute and piano, "and being the best and most supportive friend she could be."

Hospital officials learned of Wrucha's death Tuesday, and began contacting patients and others she may have been in recent contact with. She last worked at the hospital on March 21 and 22, and attended a conference at All Children's Specialty Care of Tampa on March 23 and 24.

The Hillsborough Health Department also has reached out to about two dozen of her friends and close contacts, offering them antibiotics to guard against a potential outbreak.

All Children's officials said they didn't know Wrucha was sick until she called in Monday, informing them she thought she had the flu. She was treated at Tampa General Hospital, where she died.

Autopsy results are pending, and could take four to six weeks, the Hills­borough County Medical Examiner's Office said Thursday. But laboratory cultures confirmed Wednesday that Wrucha had the infection Neisseria meningitides, according to Dr. Juan Dumois, director of pediatric infectious diseases at All Children's.

The infection can be fatal, even before it crosses from the bloodstream to cause brain inflammation. It is spread by kissing, sharing drinking glasses or coughing near another person.

Wrucha earned her master's degree from the University of South Florida, and her Facebook page lists her as a 1987 graduate of Largo High School.

She was a distance runner, competing in the 15-kilometer event of the Gasparilla Distance Classic in February. She also completed the 2010 New York City Marathon in 5 hours and 31 seconds.

An online guestbook for her set up by Blount & Curry Funeral Home was visited more than 700 times as of Thursday afternoon.

"She was an absolute miracle and blessing for our family and such a lovely person," one entry read. "I cried the very first time she worked with my son, because finally someone had helped him."

Wrucha is survived by her parents, Beverly and Stanley Wrucha; her brother, Scott; sister-in-law Claudia; two nephews; and the "love of her life," Erick Lou.

A funeral service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday (April 2) at Hyde Park Methodist Church, 500 W Platt St., Tampa, followed by a reception at the church.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Autism Speaks, 1060 State Road, 2nd Floor, Princeton, N.J., 08540.

Richard Martin can be reached at rmartin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8330.

Victim in meningitis scare identified 03/31/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2011 9:18pm]
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