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Meningitis a déjà vu nightmare for Coral Reef student’s family

For the family of Coral Reef senior Christopher Valdes, his sudden death from meningitis is a nightmarish déjà vu.

His mother, Anna Valdes, had a close call with a different kind of meningitis years ago. A general practitioner sent her home with flu-like symptoms. She visited an emergency room and found out it was viral meningitis. She recovered.

Her 18-year-old son did not, in what may prove to be a hotly disputed medical case.

Health administrators report there are no new cases of the bacterial meningitis, but they continue to advise families to be on the lookout for symptoms, after Valdes’ death Friday.

“We will continue to investigate,” said Lillian Rivera, administrator of the Miami-Dade County Health Department. “The important thing here is to be on the lookout. God willing, we won’t have a second case.”

The illness is not related to the national outbreak of fungal meningitis, according to health officials.

At school Thursday, Valdes felt ill, had a headache and threw up twice, his father Rick Valdes said. By the evening, his older brother urged Valdes to take the teen to a doctor. They went to the urgent-care facility at Baptist Medical Plaza at Country Walk, on Southwest 152nd Street near 137th Avenue.

Meanwhile, his mother was sending rapid-fire texts from California, where she was on a business trip. Ask about meningitis, she urged.

“ ‘Please do whatever checks you have for meningitis,’ ” Rick Valdes said he asked the doctor.

He recounted that the doctor said they could do other checks, like blood work. Valdes said the physician reported Chris’ white blood cells were low, his sodium level was high, and his blood pressure was low. Valdes said the doctor reasoned the low blood pressure may have been from sitting and because Chris was athletic. The 18-year-old started to walk, moving with a stiff gait.

“ ‘He’s walking around like a little old man. He doesn’t walk like that,’ ” Valdes said he told the doctor. “ ‘Something’s wrong with him.’ ”

Valdes said the doctor responded that flu can make the joints stiff and checked the teen’s neck. The official conditions evaluated, according to medical discharge papers: acute febrile illness and probable acute viral syndrome.

The teen went home with prescriptions for ibuprofen, and for Zofran for nausea and vomiting, his father said. They were instructed to seek more medical attention if conditions worsened. Valdes said they were not given antibiotics. Previously, county health officials indicated the student had received some antibiotics.

Heading home at about 11 p.m., Valdes stopped at a nearby Cuban restaurant, Casa Havana, and asked for chicken soup for his sick son. The kitchen was closed, but the restaurant gave them a bowl.

About 5 a.m., the teen woke up his father and complained of a rash and feeling awful, Valdes recounted. They rushed to the emergency room at Jackson Memorial Hospital South. “At the ER, it was too late,” he said.

Baptist Health declined to discuss Valdes’ treatment at the urgent-care clinic.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the family of Christopher Valdes. He was treated and released at one of our urgent care centers, but due to patient privacy laws, we cannot provide specific information about his treatment,” said Bethany Rundell, a spokeswoman for the health system, in an email statement.

Rick Valdes said he and his ex-wife, Chris’ mom, want other families to be aware of the symptoms of meningitis, even if it saves one life. “Right now I’m going through a lot of mourning. A little part in the back of my mind is angry,” he said. “I feel they were negligent,” he said.

Classes resumed Monday at Coral Reef, the Southwest Miami-Dade magnet school where Chris Valdes was among the 3,200 students. Many students wore black in his memory and gathered in the courtyard for a lunch time memorial. They held hands in a circle around a statue of the school’s barracuda mascot.

On Sunday, health officials held an open house for parents and students. Monday morning, the health department’s top administrator gave a prevention message — wash your hands, and don’t share drinks — over the public-address system.

While many people who are exposed to the meningococcal germ do not get sick, some show symptoms, which can include fever, headache, vomiting, stiff neck and a rash.

Rivera said many people who had contact with the student have received preventative treatment from private doctors and at local hospitals.

Valdes was known as an athlete and a gifted student. He worked part time at a Winn-Dixie and wanted to become an attorney, his dad said. He was a die-hard fan of the University of Miami and loved the Miami Dolphins.

“He always wanted the underdog to win,” said Jovanna Esdaile, a friend and classmate. “He was funny. He was quiet, but once you got to know him, his personality shined through.”

Said his father: “His only fault was he was too good. I think that’s why they took him away.”

The family is planning a private funeral service.