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Patient Stories: Ricky Lannetti

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A healthy 21-year old football player at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania who contracted MRSA and did not survive the infection.

My name is Theresa Drew; my only son was killed on Dec. 6, 2003. His killer is still on the loose. It is called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

At the time of his passing, Ricky was in the prime of his life and on the threshold of his dreams. He was a 21-year-old senior football player at Lycoming College, and he was a good one. Ricky was as strong as an ox, and he ran like a deer. Best shape he would ever be in.

On a cold windy blizzard-like night I drove for 5 1/2 hours to take my son to see the doctor, thinking he just had a bad flu or virus. Instead, we went to the hospital, where he spent the last 12 hours of his life.

It was the night before the NCAA quarterfinal game and the biggest game of his life.  Ricky was a star football player. Ricky set two new records for the school that year: a single-season record of 70 receptions – five for touchdowns; and a Lycoming single-game record of 16 receptions, for 106 yards. Ricky was also earning himself a spot on the All-American team.

For 16 years of his life he was used to getting bumped, bruised, and tackled by kids twice his size. He always got back up. Ricky played football, lacrosse, basketball, and baseball. You name it, he played it, and he played hard.

Ricky was a very active kid, who had a lot of friends and was always on the go. Ricky was a loving and fun kid, and his sisters looked up to him, he was their big brother. He was a leader among his friends. His physical, emotional strength and character gained him tremendous popularity. He was on top of the world at age 21.

The week leading up to that fateful day, Ricky was suffering with what appeared to be common flu-like symptoms. Come the morning of Dec. 6, instead of getting ready for the biggest football game of his life, Ricky laid in a Williamsport Hospital fighting for his life. While Ricky laid in the ICU hooked up to a ventilator and five different antibiotics going into his body, doctors tried to figure out how to save my son. His breathing was erratic. He was cold. He wanted to know when he was getting out, so he could play in the football game. I remember someone telling me two things that I will never forget. The first was that “Something is attacking his body, and we don’t know what it is yet.” I still had no doubt that he would be OK; Ricky’s strength and the medications would work just fine. Next, someone said, “It’s going to get worse before it gets better, and if he gets through tonight, he should be OK.” But what he was up against turned out to be even stronger than Ricky. By the time night fell, Ricky passed away.

The autopsy revealed Ricky had contracted MRSA, which entered his body from a pimple on his buttocks. They finally realized it was something too powerful for them to handle and tried to get him to a major hospital in Philadelphia, but Ricky never made it. They failed because there is not enough education, and the medical field does not know enough about MRSA nor do they have the right drugs to fight it. A healthy 21-year should not have died from this. His sisters, father and I live every day thinking about Ricky and what he would be doing today if he was here. I am sure it would have been something great.

Like millions of Americans today, I had never heard of MRSA until it claimed my son’s life. During a time that I should have been planning for my son’s college graduation and helping him prepare for his future, I was burying my only son, who only days before had been the picture of health.

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