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Mother whose son died of meningitis warns others

Christy Spindler spreads the pictures on the table. The four young people smile out at her, looking full of life and full of promise.

All were Wisconsin residents, all were college students, all died within 18 months of one another, and all died of bacterial meningitis.

The young man on the left is Spindler's son Erik, a junior at UW-River Falls. He died Nov. 11, 2002.

Another list records six other University of Wisconsin System students stricken with meningitis earlier in 2002. Of those six, five survived and one, like Erik, did not.

His mother believes Erik would have lived also if he'd been given antibiotic treatment earlier.

The Spindlers filed, and lost, a malpractice lawsuit against the doctor who treated Erik. Now his mother wants to do just one thing: save another young person. If what she has experienced will save just one, she will be satisfied, she said Friday.

"It seems to me they're all really good kids. They're not smokers. They're not drinkers. They're high achievers. They do everything right," said Spindler, who has contacted the families of other students who died of bacterial meningitis.

Erik was the only son of Spindler and her husband Douglas. The couple and their younger child, Amy, live in Stillwater, Minn. Douglas is an electrician. Christy helps run the couple's home-based engraving business.

A 'perfect' son

"He was kind of a quiet person. Erik kept to himself," said his mother Friday, describing her son. His teachers said he led by example.

"That's what Erik was to me, our perfect child," said Spindler. She said his teachers told the Spindlers that whatever they were doing in raising him, they were doing it right.

"I always said, 'We're not doing anything,'" said Spindler.

Erik told his mother he wanted kids before he turned 30 and he wanted three, but he didn't want a family until he could support them. His heroes were George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

"If he had a boy, he was going to call him Lucas," said his mother.

"Erik has always loved Japan," said Spindler. He spent the summer of 2002 in Japan teaching English and learning Japanese.

When he came back, he seemed to have made some decisions. He stayed in UWRF's Hathorn Hall, where he lived with and tutored international students. His mother said he was aiming for a career in international business.

"He knew what he wanted to do with his life," said Spindler. "He just loved everything he was doing."

'Come home'

But then on a Friday in November when she was out golfing, Spindler got a call on her cell phone from her son.

He said he hadn't been feeling well for three or four days and it was too late to get into the clinic at River Falls.

"I said, 'Why don't you come home and spend the night in your own bed?'" recalled Spindler. Her son came home, spent the night there and went to a clinic for a strep test, which came back negative.

He was scheduled to work at Econo Foods the next day, so he came back to River Falls. He took some Tylenol and told his mother he'd be fine.

His mother said he apparently went to work Sunday too, but headed back to the dorm when he became very ill.

"It came on just like gangbusters," said Spindler. She isn't sure if Erik walked back to the dorm or if he drove his car. But when he got back shortly after 10 a.m., he was pale, shivering and running a high temperature.

His friends wanted to call 911 or at least take him to the hospital, but Erik said no. At about 11 a.m., they insisted. Three of them took him to the River Falls Area Hospital emergency room.

He was admitted to the hospital. At about 2:30 p.m., he called his mother and said he had been admitted for observation, but told her she didn't have to come to River Falls.

His parents got to the hospital shortly before 3 p.m. to find Erik in a hospital room. He was receiving fluids intravenously and had been given medication for pain.