Mysterious illness sends two students to hospital

Andie Diemer
Oct. 1, 2008

For juniors Mike Milano and Dan Rickershauser, seeing their families during Elon’s annual family weekend wasn’t in the cards. But each was forced to reunite with their loved ones in a rigid scene: the hospital.

Both students were hospitalized last week with internal bleeding and released Sunday once they had recovered.

At press time the exact ailment had not be determined, but the students said their doctor, Robert Elliott, said he was 99 percent sure it was a food-borne illness, most likely food poisoning and bacteria-related.

“We had the same exact thing,” Milano said. “I had it a little bit worse, a little more progressed.”

Jana Lynn Patterson, assistant vice president of student life, said the administration was contacted Friday afternoon and told two students had been hospitalized, one on Wednesday and one on Friday.

“Given the severeness [sic] of the illness, they needed to survey our records to see if there was anything similar,” she said.

pattersonPatterson said Elon was also contacted by the health department to see if there was any connection.

“There is not any set pattern or anything,” Patterson said. “Any time you’re going to have that kind of connection, two students at one time in the hospital, then [the health department] feels like they’re going to need to follow through.”

While the health department consulted each student to determine a link between their cases, the only thing each had commonly eaten were a chicken sandwich and fries from Chick-fil-A Wednesday evening, Rickershauser said.

But he said the health department asked for every item consumed since Sept. 15, making it difficult to assist them.

Milano, who does not regularly dine on campus, said he still doesn’t know where it may have come from.

Since Sept. 23, seven people visited the health center with symptoms that could possibly mirror Milano and Rickershauser’s symptoms, Patterson said.

She said that it is not an atypical number and that none of the other cases were severe.

“There’s nothing right now where we’ve seen a bunch of people or any out of the ordinary numbers,” she said. “That may change.”

On Wednesday both Milano and Rickershauser started having stomach pains, among other symptoms such as vomiting.
Milano said the sharp, stabbing pains he experienced immediately denoted something was wrong. Thursday morning he skipped his morning class and visited the urgent care unit next to Alamance Regional Hospital.

From there he was immediately handed off to hospital specialists and was admitted into the hospital once the severity of his situation was recognized.

After visiting the Elon Health Center Thursday morning, Rickershauser was sent home with Dramamine, pepto bismol and instructions that should his situation worsen he needed to seek medical attention at the emergency room immediately.

He entered the ER later that evening and was treated for his symptoms but was then released. He wasn’t admitted to Alamance Regional until Friday after he met with a gastrointestinal specialist and was clearly not getting healthier.

Once both students were in the hospital, they were pumped with fluids, painkillers and antibiotics.

“I had internal bleeding,” Milano said. “My whole digestive track was bleeding out.”

Both patients underwent multiple tests including x-rays, CAT scans and blood cultures, among others.

“My chest x-ray showed that my colon and large intestine were inflamed and huge,” Rickershauser said.

He said he was told the diagnose is difficult to nail since the students were already being treated with antibiotics when he entered the hospital, which killed the bacteria.

Milano lost 13 pounds in 3 days since he wasn’t permitted to eat solid food and was fed items like ice cream and pudding.

“Anytime you have a student who’s sick we want the hospital to keep them a little longer because if they’re coming back to a dorm then they don’t get a lot of rest,” Patterson said. “I think everybody wants to be on the safe side about things.”

Both have checkups today and were told if they felt any pain before then to return to the ER since it could signal kidney failure.
Neither had experienced additional problems up until Tuesday.

Patterson said she spoke to each student on the phone Friday afternoon and that the Administrator on Call, Brian O’Shey, and University Physician Jim Hawkins visited the students Friday evening.

Elon Health Services also followed up with the other seven students that had similar symptoms to ensure they were healthy and collected additional information the Health Department may need, Patterson said.

None of the other seven cases investigated were serve enough to warrant hospitalization.

However, Patterson was notified Monday that another student was admitted this weekend for similar symptoms. It has been determined that they are not related to food consumption.

So far no changes by the administration, supervisors or health department have been made to ARMARK’s food service.

ARAMARK Resident District Manager Jeff Gazda said his employees work hard to ensure food safety on campus.

“Our top priority is to ensure that the food served at Elon is of the highest quality within the safest environment possible,” Gazda said. “We continuously train our managers and employees on proper techniques in food handling and food safety procedures.”

Patterson said in the case there would be a wide-spread issue similar to Milano and Rickershauser’s experience, Elon would work with the health department to notify the community.

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