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Leawood KU student dies from bacterial meningitis

Outside the University of Kansas Student Union on Mt. Oread in Lawrence, KS. (June 14, 2013)
Outside the University of Kansas Student Union on Mt. Oread in Lawrence, KS. (June 14, 2013) The Wichita Eagle

A 19-year-old Leawood college student has died of complications from a sinus infection, which led to bacterial meningitis.

Students and their families at Blue Valley North High School, where Haley Drown graduated last year, were notified of her death Monday morning in an e-mail. Principal David Stubblefield said he and his staff wanted students to know that counselors would be available at the school.

“She had a smile that would light up a room,” Stubblefield said Monday afternoon. “Everyone she was associated with, she made feel very comfortable around her.”

Her case was reported to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment over the weekend, said agency spokeswoman Sara Belfry. Drown was pronounced dead Sunday. Preliminary testing showed that the bacterial meningitis wasn’t the type commonly transmitted between humans.

“The public at large is not at risk,” Belfry said Monday. “We’re not recommending people who have been in contact with this patient (need) to receive preventative treatment.”

In a news conference Monday evening, officials with St. Luke’s Health Systems, where Drown was treated, reiterated that the public was not in danger of contracting the meningitis from her.

“She had a sinus infection,” said Len Lozada, chief physician executive for St. Luke’s. “The sinus infection became more blatant, more aggressive and overtook her immune system and infected the brain.”

That type of bacterial meningitis is not common, he said.

A freshman at the University of Kansas this past year, Drown is the second person in Kansas to contract bacterial meningitis this year. Three cases were reported in 2014.

Drown’s organs will be donated, which was Haley’s wish when she was 14 and filled out her driver’s permit form, said Laurel Gifford, director of media relations for St. Luke’s.

“Her family takes great comfort and peace in knowing that even in Haley’s death she is able to be a blessing to others,” Gifford said. “And that’s what they truly hope she will be remembered for.”

After hearing of her death, many friends turned to Drown’s Facebook page where they posted pictures and tributes to the young woman. Others have followed updates about Drown on a CaringBridge site.

“Life is not fair,” one person wrote on the CaringBridge site. “It is so not fair that Haley’s life had to be cut so short.”

To contact Laura Bauer, call 816-234-4944 or send email to lbauer@kcstar.com.

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