Church leader dies from flu

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KRUM — A ministry leader at the Open Range Cowboy Church of North Texas near Krum has died from a combination of flu and pneumonia.

Chris Waskom, 41, a father of six from Slidell in Wise County, died Dec. 31. He had the H1N1 strain of the flu, known as swine flu, according to the medical examiner’s office.

His death was the first flu-related death in Wise County and is believed to be the 21st flu-related death in North Texas, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Two people in Denton County — an elderly man and a girl, both from Carrollton — have died from flu-related causes, health officials have said.

Earl Bengston, a pastor at the cowboy church, said in an e-mail that Waskom’s death was partially the result of a hospital’s misdiagnosis.

“We are shocked as to how a 41-year-old healthy [man] with no health issues at all could be taken so quickly,” Bengston said.

Waskom’s father was a pastor, so he grew up in the church for most of his life, but at some point in life, he stopped attending, Bengston said. But one day, one of Waskom’s sons encouraged him to attend a service at the cowboy church, which is located at 7290 Hawkeye Road.

“The rest is history,” Bengston said. “He attended and knew God had sent him there.”

Since then, Ritchie Johnson — the church’s senior pastor — had mentored Waskom for about a year before his death, Bengston said.

He added that Waskom was very involved with the youth community and was being trained for arena ministry.

A funeral for Waskom was held last weekend at the cowboy church, and he was later buried in a Slidell cemetery.

Family members could not be reached for comment.

The U.S. Army veteran and owner of Smalltown Plumbing was married to Lacy Waskom. He leaves behind six children: Lizzy Waskom, Maddi Waskom, Chase Waskom, Dustie Fennell, Rusty Fennell and Ruston Fennell.

Denton County Health Department officials say the dangerous strain of flu is spreading this year, and they are urging residents to get vaccinations.

Texas first lady Anita Perry joined the call for vaccinations in a public service announcement that was unveiled Thursday by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Perry, a nurse, urges residents not to wait for symptoms to get severe before consulting a physician.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Texas is one of a handful of states with “high” activity of influenza-like illnesses. Most of the cases have been the H1N1 strain, which is covered in the vaccination, officials said.

In the Denton area, free flu vaccines are still available at both health department clinics: in Denton, at 535 S. Loop 288, Suite 1003; and in Lewisville, at 190 N. Valley Parkway, Suite 203.

For additional information, visit www.dentoncounty.com/immunizations, www.flu.gov or www.cdc.gov/flu. Updates can also be obtained by following agency reports on Twitter at @CDCFlu or @FluGov.

This article contains material from The Associated Press.

JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @Jdharden.


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