Suffolk fifth grader died from COVID-19, family says


SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A Suffolk elementary school student died from COVID-19 this week, the child’s family says.

Teresa Sperry was a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Hillpoint Elementary, her mother Nicole confirmed to WAVY’s Andy Fox.

“She was beautiful and a friend to everyone,” she said.

The Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters confirmed Teresa died on Monday.

Suffolk Superintendent John B. Gordon III sent out a statement on Tuesday and said the district would offer counseling and support services to students and staff.

“Our sincere condolences and thoughts go out to the family and friends of our student. Out of respect for the family, we will not release the student’s name and will do our part to guard the privacy of the family,” Gordon wrote in a letter to families.

Teresa’s family spoke with Andy Fox about the 10-year-old.

One recent proud moment for Teresa was when she won the summer reading challenge. For that, she got book credit at a local library. Her mother remembers the day with a smile.

“We love reading, and she was so excited to pick out whatever book she wanted to read and to be happy reading,” Nicole Sperry said.

The happy times turned to sad times, devastating times, beginning last Wednesday. Teresa developed a headache and symptoms lasted into the weekend.

“On Sunday, she started getting sick, and she was coughing up so much that she started throwing up… I was trying to do chest compressions… I went in the room and she wasn’t breathing while I was on the phone,” her father, Jeff Sperry, said.

It got worse on Monday at CHKD.

“When she was in the ICU room, they lost the heartbeat couldn’t find a pulse,” Nicole Sperry said.

Things started happening really fast.

“They came into room, and they told me it didn’t look good, and then I watched them do chest compressions and they had a defibrillator or taking turns and trying to bring her back,” Nicole Sperry said.

Then the end came.

“The doctor came in and said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and he,” the words trailed off as Nicole Sperry bowed her head and cried.

On Monday shortly after 4:46 p.m., Teresa was dead. It was five full days from the previous Wednesday when her headache began.

The Sperrys are both vaccinated and they have learned the hardest reality of COVID-19.

Nicole Sperry had an air of urgency to get out her message.

“At the school board meeting, while I was sitting next to my dead daughter, there was a Chesapeake School Board meeting and people were saying ‘This does not affect healthy people. This does not kill healthy people. It is not going to take out children. It’s over.’ Well, I am here to tell you it is not over. If it were over my daughter would still be alive,” she said.

Gordon, the Suffolk schools superintendent, gave condolences.

“We have empathy for the Sperry family. We are so sorry it happened. No parent wants to outlive their children, especially when you lose someone at such a young age,” he said.

The Sperrys have a message for anyone who will listen.

“Get a vaccine if you can, if you are medically able to get one. Wear a mask, wear it properly, have care and a compassion for other people. We have had that compassion over the last year,” Nicole Sperry said.

“When I think of her, I think of someone who was caring. She had a heart for everybody. Like if she saw somebody sad, or if she saw someone who needed a friend, she was there,” said Nicole Sperry. “It’s not fair. A lot of people should have been able to get to know her and become a better person because of her.”

There is a Paypal account set up to help with the Sperry family expenses, and if you’d like to make them a meal (or donate money for food) there’s a Meal Train page.

The Suffolk school district reported 60 new coronavirus cases for the week of Sept. 20-26, with two at Hillpoint. The district says the total may include a single individual who has been in multiple schools.

Suffolk’s schools require masks for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status, though Sperry was not yet eligible to vaccinated against COVID-19. Health officials are hoping the Pfizer vaccine for kids 5-11 will be available this fall.

Sperry’s death comes under two months after the region’s first child COVID-19 death was reported. 17-year-old Schwanda Corprew was a student at Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk.

The Virginia Department of Health so far has reported 12 COVID-19 deaths in people 19 and younger. Sperry’s death had not been added to state data as of Wednesday.

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