Friends, Family Grappling with Sandie Brown’s Death from Complications of Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever Strain

Sandie Brown’s death last month shocked family members, friends, co-workers and the Love City community who reeled from the news of the loss of the outgoing and friendly woman.

The 47-year-old St. John resident, who was the director of revenue management at Caneel Bay Resort where she worked for a decade, succumbed to complications from dengue fever on Friday, August 20, in a Florida hospital.

Brown died of complications from a severe strain of the disease, called dengue hemorrhagic fever, which results in internal bleeding and dire low levels of platelets in the blood, according to Schneider Regional Medical Center’s Director of Emergency Medicine Dr. Clayton Wheatly.

Dengue fever — an endemic disease in the Virgin Islands and throughout the tropics — is contracted from Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are found throughout the tropics and bite indoors and outdoors from dusk until dawn.

There are four main strains of dengue fever, with the life-threatening dengue hemorrhagic fever by far the most dangerous form of the disease.

While Wheatly did not treat Brown, he was familiar with her case and had consulted with her attending physician at SRMC where she was treated after being transferred from Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center on St. John.

After being admitted to the emergency room at the St. Thomas hospital, Brown was in turn transferred to a Florida hospital — most likely a Jacksonville-area facility, according to Wheatly — where she died from complications from the mosquito-born disease.

While there is no cure for the disease, Brown’s severely low levels of blood platelets made treatment extremely difficult.

Without platelets, Brown’s blood was unable to clot and her death was likely due to internal bleeding, Wheatly explained.

Brown is the only person Wheatly knew of who had died from dengue hemorrhagic fever in the territory this year, he added.

The lack of platelets in local blood banks and the length of time it takes for medical transport off St. Thomas didn’t help Brown’s treatment.

After determining a patient needs to be transferred from SRMC, it takes an average of eight to 12 hours for that patient to actually leave the island, according to Wheatly.

“It takes so long because we don’t have a medical helicopter or a fixed medical transport which would cut down on that time significantly,” said Wheatly. “Once the determination is made to transfer a patient, transportation must be secured, personnel must be secured, and all of that takes time before they even begin to travel here to pick up the patient.”

“We have been to the legislature before to impress upon them the importance of having fixed medical transport in the island,” said the director of emergency medicine at SRMC.

The delay in transportation, however, did not contribute to Brown’s death, Wheatly added.

“The problem wasn’t getting her off-island,” said Wheatly. “It was the disease. The delay in transportation didn’t contribute to her death.”

The lack of platelets was a bigger factor in Brown’s death, according to Wheatly.

“The blood bank here doesn’t store platelets,” Wheatly said. “The patient would have required a platelet transfusion and we don’t have them. We would have to request them from the blood bank in Puerto Rico and that may have been one of the deciding factors.”

With no cure for the disease, the only way to avoid dengue hemorrhagic fever and other strains of dengue fever is to limit one’s exposure to mosquitoes, Wheatly explained.

“Make sure screens in the home are function, remove any standing water around the home, use bug repellent and limit your exposure to mosquitoes,” he said.

While the community grappled with Brown’s death, friends, co-workers and family members gathered at Caneel Bay Resort’s Turtle Point on Sunday, September 5, to celebrate her life and mourn her passing.

“Sandie was a huge part of the fabric of Caneel Bay and was an important part of the guest experience,” said Kristin Hutton, senior account executive with Hawkins International PR, of which Caneel is a client. “Everyone is going to miss her very much. Sandie loved Caneel Bay and that is something that shone through in her interactions with guests.”

“People are really going to miss her smiling face,” said Hutton. “She always had a great attitude about life and was so excited about everything.”