Pride, support proved best medicine for afflicted student

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St. Francis Prep sophomore Elena Iannece said she does not feel any different physically or emotionally a year after she contracted swine flu while at the school.

Looking back a year later, the 15-year-old said she is grateful for the support her school, friends and family showed while she was sick and does not feel defensive about being a “Terrier.”

“People say, ‘Oh, you go to Prep. You go to the swine flu school,’ and it’s the epicenter of the thing, but that doesn’t change my opinion of the school,” she said.

It started when she began feeling feverish and was having trouble with her balance. Being a hardworking student, Elena decided to keep going to class, but eventually the illness was too much for her.

“At the last period I couldn’t take it anymore and I went to the nurse’s office,” she said.

Since lines outside nurse Mary Pappas’ office were already packed, the teen went straight to her pediatrician for help. After telling her symptoms to her doctor and some initial testing, however, Elena and her family said they were shocked when the physician could not give them a diagnosis.

Elena was staying with her friends while her parents went to pick up her older brother from college out of state, and it was then that the doctor finally determined she had caught the H1N1 virus. The teen’s fears were elevated because of the intense media coverage of Prep and the disease.

“We were just looking [swine flu] up on the Internet and there were these terrible things about it and we were pretty scared,” she said.

Her father, Jerry Iannece, chairman of Community Board 11, got home to tend to her. Iannece said he and his wife kept in close contact with Elena’s physician on his cell phone and followed his preliminary instructions to the bone.

“He had called us and told us get her Tamiflu immediately,” he recalled.

The girl, like the rest of the Prep patients who contracted the disease, made a full recovery and returned to classes a week later. Elena said the panic caused by the outbreak quickly passed because the school community stuck together and did not overreact to the media coverage.

“I felt that people were less worried because they didn’t feel alone,” she said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 5:55 pm, October 10, 2011
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