Assistant principal Mitchell Wiener dies from complications of swine flu

Updated Monday, May 18th 2009, 4:49 PM

A beloved Queens assistant principal became the city’s first swine flu death last night — and health officials warned he probably won’t be the last.

Mitchell Wiener, 55, died at 6:17 p.m. at Flushing Hospital Medical Center, six days after he got sick and four days after he was hospitalized with a temperature of 103.

"He was a well-liked and devoted educator, and his death is a loss for our schools and our city," said Mayor Bloomberg, who closed five more Queens schools Sunday.

Four students at Intermediate School 238 in Hollis also have confirmed cases of the new H1N1 virus, but Wiener had a particularly bad case that shut down his kidneys and ravaged his lungs.

Known for the long hours he put in helping youngsters with math, Wiener spent 30 years at the school, having started as a substitute teacher in 1978.

Doctors tried frantically to save him, even using an experimental device to expose his blood to ultraviolet rays.

It was fruitless.

"His wife told me this morning there was no chance," said Mary Meguerditchian, 60, whose husband was in the next bed in the intensive care unit. "She was in very bad shape. I was crying like it's my family."

Wiener was the sixth person to die in the United States from the new swine flu strain that has killed dozens of people in Mexico and has spread like wildfire across the globe. Some of the other victims had other health woes, but Wiener's family said his only previous ailment had been gout.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local officials have warned the nation to brace for more deaths.

"It is entirely possible that in the coming days there will be people with severe illness from flu, particularly among people who have underlying health problems," said Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden.

He warned people who already suffer a chronic condition - like diabetes, emphysema or asthma - and have been exposed to someone with the flu to see a doctor even if they don't feel sick.

The vast majority of cases in New York have been mild, and officials continue to monitor school absences as a way to track the spread of the virus.

There are 11 schools now closed by the Health Department, meaning more than 10,000 kids will miss class this week.

None of the five new schools closed Sunday has confirmed cases of the illness, but enough students were sick that officials thought it wise to shut them.

"We hope [the decision] will slow transmission within the individual school communities," Frieden said.

The newly closed schools are:

- Middle School 158 in Bayside, where 41 students out of 1,127 have fallen ill.

- Our Lady of Lourdes in Queens Village, where 37 out of 424 students are sick.

- Intermediate School 25 in Flushing, where 27 of the 1,320 students are ill. Two other schools that share the same building were also closed.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein praised the Health Department for handling the crisis in a "thoughtful and intelligent way."

He brushed off criticism that IS 238 should have been closed by last Monday, when large numbers of kids fell ill. The school was closed Thursday.

"This tragedy tells us that we have to be mindful and closely monitor schools that have indications of flu outbreaks," said Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

The swine flu virus has sickened 8,480 people worldwide and killed 76, mostly in Mexico.

A one-day surge of 120 new cases in Japan, where more than 1,000 schools were closed, may prompt the World Health Organization to declare an official Level 6 global pandemic.

With Veronika Belenkaya, Erin Einhorn, Meredith Kolodner, Rachel Monahan and Edgar Sandoval


School Closings

Public schools closed in NYC due to swine flu:

    1. Intermediate School 238, Queens. Reopening Friday, May 22.
    2. Public School 16, Queens. Reopening Friday, May 22.
    3. PS 255 (located at PS 16), Queens. Reopening Friday, May 22.
    4. IS 5, Queens. Reopening Friday, May 22.
    5. Junior High School 74, Queens. Reopening Tuesday, May 26.
    6. PS 107, Queens. Reopening Tuesday, May 26.
    7. Middle School 158, Queens. Reopening Tuesday, May 26.
    8. IS 25, Queens. Reopening Tuesday, May 26.
    9. World Journalism Preparatory (located at IS 25), Queens. Reopening Tuesday, May 26
    10. PS 233 (located at IS 25), Queens. Reopening Tuesday, May 26.
    11. IS 318, Brooklyn. Reopening Tuesday, May 26
    12. PS 19, Queens. Reopening date TBD.
    13. PS 32, Queens. Reopening date TBD.
    14. PS 209, Queens. - reopening date TBD.
    15. PS 9 (located at PS 209), Queens. Reopening date TBD.
    16. St. David's School, Manhattan.
    17. Our Lady of Lourdes, Queens.
    18. Horace Mann School, Bronx. Reopening May 26.
    19. St. Joseph's, Queens.
    20. Holy Family, Queens.
    21. South Bronx Charter school, Bronx.
    22. St. Demetrius School, Astoria. Reopening May 26.
    23. The Child School Legacy High School, Roosevelt Island. Reopening May 21.

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