New Jersey Boy, 4, Who Died of Enterovirus-68 Was “Full of Unconditional Love”: Dad

The father of the 4-year-old New Jersey boy who died from enterovirus-68 said Sunday his son was "full of unconditional love" as he announced plans to establish a foundation in his son's memory to support students with special needs.

Eli Waller, of Mercer County, died in his sleep Sept. 25. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told New Jersey health officials Friday that Waller, the youngest of triplets, tested positive for EV-68, and the medical examiner determined the virus killed him.

Officials said Waller showed no symptoms prior to his death and was only out of school one day for what appeared to be pink eye. It turned out it was EV-68.

Eli Waller attended afternoon preschool at Yardville Elementary School. Another young boy who attends morning sessions at the school also showed symptoms of EV-D68 but is recovering at home after being released from the hospital.

On Sunday Eli Waller'’s father, Andy Waller, issued the following written tribute to his son:

My words probably won’t capture him well, but everyone who met Eli knows how he made people feel; imagine a shy little puppy who wants only to make people proud and happy, maybe tripping a bit over his own paws, but truly full of unconditional love. He was a beautiful mix of eagerness and hesitancy, need and striving, caution and surprise, all of which were grounded in a pure, unconditional love.

The youngest of a set of triplets, born much smaller and lighter than his sisters, Eli nevertheless persevered through all the difficulties that came his way. Eli was not the type to give up, and even though things never really came easily to him, he would just plug away, day after day, practicing sounds, or movements, or skills, until he would eventually get them. He did this entirely in an effort to make his Mom and Dad proud, and we can unequivocally say that we were, and will continue to be, so very proud of our little Eli.

Eli cared deeply for his sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and his Mom and Dad. He enjoyed soccer with his best friend, and he made incredible progress through his dance classes and in school, thanks to his friends and teachers there. My wife and I simply cannot thank you all nearly enough for the roles you played in Eli’s life. And while our hearts break at his passing, our hearts also overflow with overwhelming gratitude. We want everyone to know how grateful we are for such an outpouring of love and support, not only during Eli’s life, but also after his passing. This is an incredible community in which we live, and we don’t know what to say to you all other than thank you, from the bottoms of our hearts. ...

Like so many kids his age, Eli was both nervous and excited about starting school, and it is our sincere hope that this Foundation can work to help kids in a way that will make Eli proud of us all, in the same way that we were all so proud of him. My wife and I again want to thank everyone for their tremendous love and support during these difficult days, and we hope that you all will continue to support our efforts to honor the memory of our perfect, beautiful son, Eli Thomas Waller. We love you, little buggy!

The New Jersey Health Department said the CDC has since reported another confirmed case of the virus in a Middlesex County child, bringing the total count in the state to nine people who have been infected with EV-68. Those cases are in Camden, Burlington, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Essex, Passaic and Sussex counties.

The enterovirus germ is not new; most people who catch the virus experience only a runny nose and low-grade fever. It was first identified in 1962 and has caused clusters of illness before.

This year, an unusually severe strain of the virus has sickened more than 500 people in 43 states and Washington, D.C. — almost all of them children.

To avoid getting the virus, health officials recommend:

  • Wash hands with soap and water.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid kissing, hugging, and sharing cups, plates and utensils with people who are sick.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.
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