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Pain of sudden loss strikes in West Branch schools



Published: Fri, June 1, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By day's end, two West Branch High School students who died over the Memorial Day weekend will both be laid to rest.

Their funerals Thursday and today came at the close of a week of almost indescribable pain for their families and one that will never be forgotten by classmates, friends and neighbors.

Jonathan Stauffer, 15, of Alliance and Kelly Coblentz, 16, of Salem died of meningococcal disease at local hospitals. Just a week ago, they were attending a picnic at the high school. Friday eve-ning, Jonathan became ill, and by late Saturday morning he was dead. Kelly took ill Saturday night and died Monday morning.

Shock: The swiftness with which the disease struck sent shock waves through the community. Some people demanded answers to questions that even now can't be answered. How, when, where and why did this particular strain of meningococcal disease strike these particular youngsters?

Local and state health departments will continue to work on answering those questions, not because the answers can change what happened, and not even because the answers would necessarily prevent a similar tragedy, but because people need to know. When a boy can be playing basketball one day and be dead the next, when a girl starting out on a new job one morning is dead two days later, answers are needed.

This is a nation whose people have come to think that science and medicine can solve almost any problem. We accept that cancer and heart disease and traumatic injuries are fatal, but we don't expect our loved ones, especially our children, to get sick and die within a matter of hours.

Classes at Kelly's and Jonathan's school were canceled this week, which gave the students time to absorb the enormity of what happened. It gave the community time to come to grips with initial fears that sometimes bordered on panic.

Response: There have been no more diagnoses of the disease, and every student has had the opportunity to get preventative medication.

Health department, schools, physicians and hospitals responded quickly to the holiday weekend emergency. Alliance Community Hospital deserves special commendation for its quick response, setting up a clinic and providing more than 1,000 doses of medication free.

When classes resume Monday, students, teachers and administrators at West Branch High School will have to do the best they can to get through what little remains of the school year. They have lost two classmates and friends. They have also lost the feeling of invincibility that teen-agers take as a birthright.

The West Branch classes of 2001 through 2004 have had to grow up too soon. Our hearts go out to them.




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