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Tragedy stuck hard


The loss of a 19-year-old Tyler Junior College baseball player to bacterial meningitis in 2005 will forever raise awareness at TJC and numerous other campuses.

On Oct. 10, 2005, Austin Thomas Phillips lost his life just a few days after playing in a baseball game with his teammates.

“He actually pitched the Thursday night before,” said Jonathan Groth, Ph.D. professor of Health and Kinesiology, who was the head baseball coach at the time.

Groth said that Phillips initially had flu-like symptoms, but they progressed rapidly and got worse. He passed out at his girlfriend’s house on Friday and was rushed to the hospital where he was later diagnosed with bacterial meningitis.

“Everyone on the team had to be given medicine immediately to prevent the whole team from catching the disease,” said Groth. “That was some pretty scary stuff.”

Unfortunately, on Oct. 10, 2005, Groth would get the news that Phillips had died.

“On Monday afternoon at practice at about 2 p.m. I got a text message from someone who was at the hospital giving me the tragic news that he had passed away,” said Groth. “That was a real challenging time for our team.”

Groth said one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do is loose a player.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody. You just never want this to happen,” said Groth.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. The inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. 

The symptoms for meningitis are a sudden fever, headache, a stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, photophobia or sensitivity to light, and altered mental status. 

Janet Booth, who is professor of medical terminology, said, “A lot of times, doctors will ask a patient to touch their chest with their chin, and if they can’t do it without pain, they are checked for meningitis.”

This disease is very serious and a dangerous disease that needs to be approached with caution.

“It’s taken very seriously,” said Stephanie Eijsink, MD at ETMC First Physicians Clinic Tyler Junior College. “If I had someone I suspected of having meningitis, I’d have them in an ambulance immediately.”

There are some vaccines that can be used to prevent meningitis. The vaccines are called the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) and the meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine (MPSV4). MCV4 is for people under the age of 55, and MPSV4 is for people 55 and older.

College freshmen living in dormitories are at a high risk of catching the virus.

“Students living on campus are required to have the vaccine,” said Eijsink.

College students are at greater risk of contracting the disease due to a lack of rest.

Booth explained that a lot of students in college do not get enough rest because they are working, studying, or partying. These risks cause their immune system to have very little time to recover, causing them to be susceptible to the disease.

On Oct. 27, 2011, Senate Bill 1107 passed requiring first-time students at public, private or independent colleges to show proof of a recent bacterial meningitis vaccination or booster within five years of school entry.


“Any new student at TJC beginning Spring 2012 under the age of 30 will be required to give paperwork proving that they have been vaccinated,” said TJC Registrar Andrea Liner.

Liner explained that TJC is concerned that the new bill will discourage students from registering in the future. As a result, the college has chosen to allow students to register for the spring semester, by the fall semester students will be required to show proof of immunization.

Unfortunately, TJC does not offer the vaccine. In order to get vaccinated a student would have to go to a clinic or contact their physician.

A lot of students are concerned about the price of the vaccines. According to healthcenter.ucdavis.edu, vaccine prices range from $65 to $114 with insurance. 

“It may cost money, but what is your life worth to you?” said Groth.

For more information on where and how to get the meningitis vaccination, contact the TJC Clinic located on the second floor of the Rogers Student Center at 903-510-2803. For more information regarding the bill and the requirement for the vaccination go to http://www.dshs.state.tx.us.


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