SDSU Student with Meningococcal Meningitis on Life Support - NBC Bay Area

SDSU Student with Meningococcal Meningitis on Life Support



    The family of an SDSU student with meningococcal meningitis have said their goodbyes, but 18-year-old Sara Stelzer remains on life support so her organs can be donated, according to university officials. NBC 7's Vanessa Herrera reports from SDSU where the mood was somber Friday night. (Published Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014)

    Staff and students at San Diego State University are honoring 18-year-old freshman Sara Stelzer, who school officials say is on life support after contracting meningococcal disease.

    Stelzer, who was studying pre-communications, was hospitalized on Tuesday after starting to experience flu-like symptoms two days prior. She was then diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis.

    Her family gave SDSU officials permission to release a statement Friday morning saying they have told their daughter farewell. Stelzer's body will be kept on life support while the hospital looks for recipients of some of her vital organs, according to SDSU Chief Communications Officer Greg Block.

    The university issued a statement, saying it was “deeply saddened by the loss” and asked for privacy while students grieve.

    "After speaking with her family, we know that Sara was a vibrant young woman who loved San Diego State, her friends and the time she spent at our university," said Eric Rivera, vice president of the university's student affairs. "It is always difficult when a young life is lost, especially when that person is part of our SDSU family."

    The school is offering emergency counseling to students at SDSU's counseling and psychological services, which can be reached at 619-594-5220.

    Now attention has turned to preventing another meningitis-related tragedy.

    More than 400 students have signed up for antibiotics after the university sent a campus-wide notification to alert students of the health threat. Specifically, between 300 and 400 people were notified, including all members of the Kappa Delta sorority and anyone who attended two specific fraternity parties on Oct. 8 and 9. All Greek events scheduled for this weekend have been canceled.

    "We are deeply saddened by the loss of our sister. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family," said Kaitlyn Holt, president of the Beta Rho chapter of Kappa Delta, in a statement Friday.

    "It's awful. Everyone's really devastated," said Elleni Anast, who attended the same fraternity party as Stelzer. "My roommate is in Kappa Delta, so (I'm) trying to help them through that time."

    "It breaks my heart. Everyone's heart," echoed freshman Nicolette Pianelli. "Took flowers to Kappa Delta house the other day."

    Many took to social media to express their grief.

    Prior to her death, Stelzer also helped out with homecoming last Friday at her alma mater, Moorpark High School, north of Los Angeles.

    She helped friends with hair and makeup, and the Ventura County Health Department has identified 10 people, who had contact with her. About six of them had "prolonged" contact with her, school officials said.

    All those people have been examined by doctors, given antibiotics and were back in class on Friday.

    Officials at Moorpark said Stelzer had been part of the golf team and Renaissance class at the school and "brought an amazing amount of light to MHS."

    "We are extremely saddened by the loss of Sara," school superintendent Kelli Hays said in a statement. "She left a very meaningful mark on Moorpark High School and we will continue to honor her memory."

    Meningococcal disease refers to any illness caused by the type of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis, also known as meningococcus, according to the CDC.

    These illnesses can be life-threatening infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord as well as bloodstream infections.

    The disease can be spread by sharing cigarettes or pipes, drinking out of the same water bottles or beverage containers or through other intimate contact like kissing.

    Because it takes one to 10 days for someone exposed to the disease to see symptoms, others may have it and not know it.

    Symptoms include fever, intense headache, neck stiffness and rashes.

    Anyone experiencing symptoms should go directly to a hospital emergency room and explain the possible exposure, school officials said.

    There is no word yet on memorial service plans.