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University of Oregon student Lillian Pagenstecher dies of meningitis
by Jennifer Kennedy - The Oregon Herald
  Monday May 14, 2012 - 11:02 AM
EUGENE, Oregon — More than 1,000 people attended a candlelight vigil at the University of Oregon Sunday night for a student who died Friday of meningitis.

The father of the 21-year-old, Lillian Pagenstecher, said she had survived a previous bout with the disease and remained at risk because of a genetic protein deficiency.

People who were in close contact with her were advised to see a doctor for an antibiotic, as a precaution.

University student Lloyd Hall said, "Within our community itself, there has been a huge response, people talking, offering their time and whatever they can to support those involved and affected."

The university is working with Lane County Public Health to identify others who had close contact with the student.

154 students had already received the preventative medication and a number of people in the community could also have received it in addition to that number.

"It's a very serious disease and it is treatable," said Pam Stuver, with LCPH, of bacterial meningitis.

Bacterial meningitis tends to spread more quickly where larger groups of people gather together such as college students living in dormitories and are at increased risk for meningitis.

Interim University president Robert Berdahl opened not only with remarks from himself, but also comments given to him by Lill's sorority sisters. The comments reflected the passion Lill possessed for life, as well as her love of the Food Network. "As we think about this very sad moment, all of us together here," Berdahl said, "let us take that resolve and go forward with the kind of friendship and love and affection for one another that she taught us to have."

Chi Omega President Miranda Matthews came to the stage next, to lead the audience in the rest of the vigil ceremony.

"This is so overwhelming and amazing to see how many people showed up tonight," Matthews said. "It really stands tribute to the person Lill was."

She thanked those attending for providing the support she and others needed to get through this difficult time. The stage was then opened to those who wanted to speak in honor of Lill.

Gary Pagenstecher, Lill's father, came up and thanked the students for coming out and giving him the ability to meet her "extended family."

In the distance, the jarring sound of bells broke the mourning silence while close friend Jayne Thomas came to the stage, sitting with her legs hanging over the edge with another friend by her side. She had been at the hospital with Lill and had messages from her last moments at the hospital.

"We laughed all the way through it," Thomas said. "And even when she was crying, we laughed all the way through it."

She talked about how hungry they had been that night, with Lill only wanting to go to Taco Bell. Her recollection of the times at the hospital had many of the audience laughing and crying. She made sure to reach out to all the people Lill had wanted her to — even the kid from writing class who had said she "snored cute."

"There was a moment when she knew, and I told her I'd be right back. But I didn't get to go back in there," Thomas said. "But I know I'll be right back at some point.

"She was there one minute, she wasn't the next. But she is, you know — she's everywhere."

Thomas also joked about making sure everyone went to dollar beers, in Lill's honor.

Other friends and family came to speak about her impact before her mother, Toni Pagenstecher, spoke about her time visiting Lill for the Eugene Marathon.

"I enjoyed the moment that I spent here at the University of Oregon, with our child, that I really wanted to come home," she said, unable to keep her voice from cracking. "So, thank you for your thoughtfulness. Thank you for your security, for my daughter … I love you, Lillian."

Lastly, coworkers and other friends spoke of her ambition and willingness to do whatever it took to help others. Audience members snapped their fingers to preserve the calm — instead of clapping — after each speaker, between hugs and tears.

The ceremony finished with the singing of Chi Omega's song and the blowing out of the candles. Shortly after, a lantern was lit and let go into the warm, night sky.

Gary Pagenstecher was amazed by the ceremony, and the "family" he got to meet.

"It was profound," he said. "It's a chance to meet our extended family, her extended family, which has been really important to her, obviously. We remember Lillian as strong and joyful."

Hinman felt the ceremony was a fantastic way to show her impact on the fraternity and sorority community.

"For me personally, it's just about supporting our organizations and supporting our individual members — a loss of one member is a loss to our entire community," she said. "There's so many different students here and administrators and family and friends, and I think it speaks multitudes to who she was. And the fact that people can still laugh here today speaks to who she is, too."

Matthews considers this one of the biggest steps in the mourning, but also sees her house coming out of it strong. Those at the memorial spent time talking to each other — just remembering who she was — and laughing together.

"I feel like we just find so much support in each other, and we're just coming out stronger than ever from this," Matthews said. "We're just using each other to support one another and lift each other up when we need it."

Acute bacterial meningitis is the most common form of meningitis. Approximately 80 percent of all cases are acute bacterial meningitis. Bacterial meningitis can be life threatening. The infection can cause the tissues around the brain to swell. This in turn interferes with blood flow and can result in paralysis or even stroke.

The bacteria most often responsible for bacterial meningitis are common in the environment and can also be found in your nose and respiratory system without causing any harm.

Sometimes meningitis occurs for no known reason. Other times it occurs after a head injury or after you have had an infection and your immune system is weakened.

Children between the ages of one month and two years are the most susceptible to bacterial meningitis.

Adults with certain risk factors are also susceptible. You are at higher risk if you abuse alcohol, have chronic nose and ear infections, sustain a head injury or get pneumococcal pneumonia.

You are also at higher risk if you have a weakened immune system, have had your spleen removed, are on corticosteroids because of kidney failure or have a sickle cell disease.

Additionally, if you have had brain or spinal surgery or have had a widespread blood infection you are also a higher risk for bacterial meningitis.

Outbreaks of bacterial meningitis also occur in living situations where you are in close contact with others, such as college dormitories or military barracks.

Symptoms of bacterial meningitis
High fever, headaches, and an inability to lower your chin to your chest due to stiffness in the neck.

In older children and adults, you may see confusion, irritability, increasing drowsiness. Seizures and stroke may occur.

In young children, the fever may cause vomiting and they may refuse to eat. Young children may become very irritable and cry. There may be seizures. Also, because the fluid around the skull may become blocked their heads may swell.

The onset of symptoms is fast, within 24 hours. If allowed to progress, you can die from bacterial meningitis.

Beningitis diagnosed
It is important that you seek immediate medical assistance if you suspect meningitis.

Your doctor will conduct a physical exam. Your doctor will look for a purple or red rash on the skin. Your doctor will check your neck for stiffness and will exam hip and knee flexion.

Your doctor will have to decide if the cause is bacterial, viral or fungal and will have to analyze your spinal fluid so a spinal tap will be ordered.

Your blood and urine may also be analyzed as well as the mucous from your nose and throat.

Bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics. A general intravenous antibiotic with a corticosteroid to bring down the inflammation may be prescribed even before all the test results are in. When the specific bacteria are identified, your doctor may decide to change antibiotics. In addition to antibiotics, it will be important to replenish fluids lost from loss of appetite, sweating, vomiting and diarrhea.

There is a 10 percent death rate from bacterial meningitis but if diagnosed and treated early enough, most people recover.

Unfortunately, if treatment is not undergone immediately, there may be permanent damage. Seizures, mental impairment and paralysis may be life long.

Is bacterial meningitis contagious?
You should encourage anyone who you have come into close contact with to seek preventative treatment. Anyone who you have had casual contact should not be affected.

Is there a vaccine for bacterial meningitis?
Yes, a vaccine is available, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has specific guidelines regarding who should receive the vaccine.

The CDC recommends the meningococcal vaccine for:

  • All children and adolescents ages 11 through 18
  • College freshmen living in dormitories
  • Military recruits
  • Scientists routinely exposed to meningococcal bacteria
  • Anyone traveling to or living in a part of the world where the disease is common, such as Africa
  • Anyone with a damaged spleen or who has had his or her spleen removed
  • Anyone who has terminal complement component deficiency (an immune system disorder)
  • The CDC does not recommend the vaccine for:
  • Anyone who has ever had a severe (life threatening) allergic reaction to a previous dose of meningococcal vaccine.
  • Anyone who has a severe (life threatening) allergy to any vaccine component. Tell your doctor if you have any severe allergies.
  • The CDC recommends that the following individuals wait before receiving the vaccine or talk further with their doctor about the need for the vaccine:
Anyone who is moderately or severely ill at the time of their scheduled appointment to receive their shot should wait until they recover.
Anyone who has ever had Guillain-Barre syndrome should discuss getting the vaccine with his or her doctor.
Pregnant women should only get the vaccine if it is clearly needed. Discuss the need with your doctor.