USD athlete loses bout with meningitis

USD athlete loses bout with meningitis Hartwig by David Lias The University of South Dakota women's volleyball team should be playing in the Northern Michigan Invitational Tournament this weekend.

Instead, it is in Pinedale, WY today (Friday) to bid a sad farewell to a teammate and friend.

University of South Dakota officials announced at a press conference Sunday, Aug. 26 that McKenzie Hartwig, a freshman member of USD's volleyball team from Pinedale, died late Friday, Aug. 24, of meningococcal menigitis.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord that is caused by an infection with bacteria.

The strain of last weekend's events was apparent on the weary face of Kelly Higgins, USD athletic director, who addressed reporters.

Higgins traveled to Fargo Friday when he learned that Hartwig was seriously ill.

"The thoughts and the prayers of the entire USD community are with the Hartwig family," he said. "We are very saddened by her tragic and sudden death.

"This is a loss for the Hartwig family," he added, "and the volleyball part means very little to me at this particular point (in time). All we really care about at the time is to make sure that the athletes, the students, are taken care of."

Higgins said the team and the Hartwig family came together to "hold each other up. I think that went a long ways ? to try to make the best that we could of a bad situation."

He praised the medical team in North Dakota who treated Hartwig, and also offered thanks to personnel from NDSU for their assistance.

NDSU officials arranged for a private plane to fly Hartwig's parents from the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, where they were stranded because of flight delays.

The USD women's volleyball team was competing at its season-opening tournament at the NDSU Volleyball Classic in Fargo. According to Darin Weber, women's head volleyball coach, after Thursday night's practice Hartwig complained of a sore throat. She developed flu-like symptoms Friday morning and was taken to the Innovis Health Center in Fargo.

Hartwig's condition worsened throughout the day and became life threatening. Weber was called to the hospital at approximately 2 p.m. The volleyball team competed in two games Friday night, and Weber notified team members of Hartwig's death early Saturday morning.

North Dakota Department of Health epidemiologist Larry Shirley determined the cause of Hartwig's death Saturday.

"We are dealing with a single, isolated, sporadic case of this disease," said Dr. David Geise, medical director of USD Student Health, "and we're optimistic that we won't be seeing any more (cases). Fortunately, this was recognized very early. The university, the athletic department and department of health has worked tirelessly to identify all students with potential significant exposure to the disease, and to provide them with the appropriate therapy."

Dr. Sarah Patrick of the South Dakota Department of Health noted that only four cases of meningococcal meningitis have been reported in South Dakota in South Dakota this year.

"It's a very uncommon disease in South Dakota," she said.

Hartwig's brother, Garrett, is a red-shirt freshman on the USD football team. He was at the Fargo hospital when his sister died.

Preventative antibiotics have been given to members of the volleyball, football and soccer teams � all which may have had contact with Hartwig. USD officials cancelled the remaining matches in the NDSU tournament and sent volleyball players home.

"This is a very serious illness, obviously, and of course the concern is that it can be transferred to other people," Geise said. "However, a point to be made is that it requires significant personal contact with an individual to acquire this disease.

"This is not a disease which is acquired casually," he added. "So we have a very limited population that has been potentially exposed, and we don't see any risk to the general population of the community as a whole."

Meningococcal meningitis is a bacteria most often spread through direct or close personal contact with the nose or throat secretions of an infected person. Such contact can include sharing eating utensils, toothbrushes, cigarettes, drinks or foods, or kissing.

USD's volleyball season has just begun, but Weber noted that Hartwig's death creates a void that will be very difficult to fill.

"I think it is important for people to know that sometimes it not a great volleyball player, but sometimes it's great people that is needed to turn a program around," he said. "McKenzie was definitely that good person, as is the rest of the team.

"She fit the mold of somebody that I would want my daughter to be like," Weber added. "She was a hard worker ? we have lost a volleyball player, but more importantly, we have lost a daughter, a sister, a friend, a teammate and a very great person."

USD Dean of Students Dave Lorenz said his staff has begun working with with resident hall personnel to discuss the situation. He added that USD students will be contacted by letter or e-mail and given complete information about Hartwig's death and the meningitis.

Weber said the young athlete's death will have a significant impact on the USD team and its season.

"I gave the team a couple days off," he said. "I think it is important for them to see their families. Most of them have been able to do that. Either their families came here, or they were able to get home. I think families need to be able to see their daughters at a time like this."

Weber told his team that now isn't a time to get weaker. It's a time to get stronger.

"We will not forget what McKenzie meant to us, but we need to move on," he said. "For the rest of us who are still living, the sun comes up each day. And we have to be able to deal with it and move on."

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