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Mother to file complaint in fatal meningitis case

By Adam Schrager, aschrager@wisctv.com
Published On: May 13 2013 08:54:04 PM CDT
Updated On: May 14 2013 08:02:33 AM CDT

Henry Mackaman, 21

MADISON, Wis. -

The mother of a University of Wisconsin student who died last month of meningitis plans to file an official complaint with the state over how her son was treated at Meriter Hospital.

Meredith Leigh, the mother of 21-year-old Henry Mackaman, said she believes the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services should look into medical care he received in April.

Mackaman first arrived at Meriter's Emergency Room on Saturday, April 6, complaining of body aches and a fever of 104 degrees an hour earlier, according to medical records Leigh sent to WISC News 3. The attending physician ordered a chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia and sent him home. The following day, Leigh says her son developed a rash on his body, began throwing up and felt like there "was a claw on his neck," all signs of meningitis. He went back to Meriter early in the morning of Monday, April 8 and died there on Wednesday, April 10.

"It was just an incredible medical mishap as far as I'm concerned," she said. "I'm living a nightmare and I don't want anyone else to go through what I went through where hindsight is 20/20 and this could have been prevented."

A Meriter representative emailed WISC News 3 a statement after learning about Leigh's impending complaint.

"We can't really comment as we obviously haven't seen the complaint and we can't discuss individual patient situations, in any case," wrote Meriter Public Affairs Director Michael Flaherty. "All I can say is our hearts go out to the family."

Leigh wants Madison hospitals to pass out a sheet of paper that she's calling "Henry's Protocol" to at-risk patients, primarily college-aged students, who appear in an emergency room with some of the symptoms of meningitis: high fever, neck pain, back pain, vomiting, slurred speech, partial paralysis, and a rash.

"He ended up having the classic symptoms and if he had a list he could have put up on his refrigerator, his roommates or his girlfriend could have taken him back to the hospital," she said. "It just seems like nobody knew. Nobody knew what to look for and I know my son would be alive today if they had given him that list. He had so many classic symptoms of spinal meningitis."

University Health Services does email an influenza and meningitis reminder to each student in the fall. Mackaman had received a meningitis vaccine during his freshman year living in the dorms.

Flaherty complimented Leigh for her efforts to educate the greater public about the signs of meningitis.

"We would welcome the information she's sending us and we'd like to congratulate her work to help everyone spot this disease early," he wrote in an email to WISC News 3. "We're grateful she's working hard to help us all educate the community."

Mackaman was one credit short of graduating with a double major of economics and English. The university plans to award him his degree posthumously this weekend, and even though his parents both attended school in Madison, they do not plan to attend the ceremony.

"We're all Badgers, but right now, it's just a really sad place for us," Leigh said. "He was a joyous person. He was an adventurer. He was an explorer. He was a friend maker. I don't know one person who didn't like Henry.

"It's just an incredible loss. Every night I take a pill to go to sleep and every morning, I wake up crying. It's not getting better and it's not going away. So, instead of throwing dishes at my tree, I wanted to do something positive, for Henry and for me, and for hopefully another family that can avoid this Titanic-like tragedy."

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