Volume 21, Number 36 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | January 16 - 22, 2009

Stuy Hight

Ava Hecht, 17, a Stuyvesant High School student, died from meningitis last week.

Stuy students grieve over meningitis death

By Candida L. Figueroa

The death of 17-year-old arts enthusiast and active Stuyvesant High School senior Ava Hecht came as a shock to family and friends last Thursday. The autopsy revealed infections linked to bacterial meningitis.

Hecht was found dead in her Bayside bedroom last Thursday afternoon by her mother, Karen Gang, who told police her daughter was recently treated for laryngitis, according to the Daily News.

Outside the Battery Park City school Tuesday, a hand full of students stood against the breeze making small talk with each other.

“She touched everyone she met, sometimes even without speaking,” a classmate said while clutching a large binder with “We Love You, Ava” scribbled all over it. “Her attitude was priceless and her smiles were contagious. It’s a shame that someone so full of life, no longer has life.”

Julia Leffler remembers her as “an incredibly warm and loving person, a good soul and a true giver.” Leffler has created a city-based charity donation “Project Ava” in her memory.

Efforts are being promoted on Facebook, where the group “In Loving Memory of Ava Hecht” has over 1,800 members and is updated daily with memories of the young artist. Hecht completed a summer program at Cooper Union and contributed her comics to the school’s newspaper.

New York City sees about 30 to 50 meningococcal cases each year, with at least 10 percent of those cases resulting in death. The disease may include meningitis, which causes swelling in the brain and spinal cord. Most patients are children under five, older adults and people with chronic illness.

Despite school-wide concern, casual student interaction such as having a conversation or sitting in classroom cannot spread the infection. “A lot of illnesses happen in the winter time, with kids, that can cause these symptoms. This disease is the most infrequent cause,” Don Weiss, director of surveillance for the city Health Department’s bureau of communicable diseases, said in a telephone interview. In the rare case the infection spreads, it is transmitted through nose fluid or saliva.

The scare led to a Health Department investigation of a possible second case of bacterial meningitis at Stuyvesant, less than a week after Hecht’s death. Preliminary testing on Wednesday concluded that the male student did not have the infection. Officials did not disclose the student’s symptoms for privacy reasons.

Hecht’s death comes almost a week after 15-year-old Ashley Andreassen died in a Omaha, Nebraska hospital from the same infection after an emergency visit for a severe headache. The sophomore at Abraham Lincoln High School in Council Bluffs, had overcome a bout with mononucleosis three months prior.




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