Family of teen who tragically died on Hornby Island speaks out to save lives


WATCH: The family of a 16-year-old girl who died on a school trip to Hornby Island is speaking out to raise awareness about toxic shock syndrome. Tess van Straaten reports.

Sara Manitoski’s grieving family finds solace in their memories of the vibrant and vivacious teen.

“She lit up every room she was in and she was a world traveller at the age of 16,” says Sara’s cousin Maddy Manitoski. “She had lived a fuller life than most grown adults so she was pretty amazing.”

More than a year after the Courtenay high school student’s tragic death, loved ones still can’t believe she’s gone.

“It was really hard, it’s still hard,” says cousin Jessica Manitoski. “It’s isn’t any easier and it’s been almost a year-and-a-half now.”

“She was my little cousin and I looked up to her really and she was really brave and it was really tragic what happened and it really shook our family,” adds Maddy. 

Sara died on an overnight school team-building trip to Hornby Island in March of 2017. The much-loved teen was found unresponsive in the morning and the coroner has now determined Sara died from toxic shock syndrome, linked to tampon use.

“It was a huge shock because we were left in the dark for so long and we didn’t know what could have happened to her and when we found out it was toxic shock syndrome we were all taken aback because we thought it was so rare,” Maddy Manitoski says.

Health officials say toxic shock syndrome is very rare but the life-threatening bacterial infection can happen to anyone.

“It’s definitely been associated with things like skin infections or skin wounds, sometimes from people after surgery they can get infections that can progress and also the associated between the use of tampons,” explains medical health officer Dee Hoyano of Island Health.

Symptoms come on quickly and include a fever, feeling unwell, low blood pressure, possible vomiting or diarrhea, and in some cases, a very bright rash. But medical intervention can stop it from being deadly.

“The key there is really getting early treatment with antibiotics and being supported in hospital,” says Hoyano.

That’s why Sara’s family is speaking out. They’re hoping that by raising awareness, Sara’s death will save lives.

“It can happen to anybody, and it just so happens it took someone we love and our family will never be the same,” Maddy Manitoski says, holding back tears. “She was really special and she loved everyone.”

Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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