Diagnosis and treatment saves student’s life

A Virginia Tech student who almost died from a stubborn meningitis bacteria was able to leave Lewis-Gale Medical Center Tuesday to go home.

Medical officials credited teamwork by staff at L-G and Montgomery Regional Hospital, along with a rare prescription drug therapy, with saving VT sophomore Scott Riley.

Riley talked with media Monday before he was released to go home to Midlothian to complete his recovery. His organs had begun shutting down two weeks ago because of “neisseri meningitis,” a bacteria that resists many antibiotics. He was placed on a ventilator and spent almost a week in intensive care.

Virginia Tech sophomore Scott Riley, who almost died from meningitis. -Submitted photo
Virginia Tech sophomore Scott Riley, who almost died from meningitis. -Submitted photo

“I am thankful to the staff of the hospital and to my family and friends,” said Riley, as he sat in his hospital bed at Lewis-Gale. The 19-year-old who is majoring in fisheries and wants to work on cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay one day credited his roommate and resident advisor in the dorm for insisting he go back to the hospital a second time when he got worse.

His saga began Sept. 24 when he went to the emergency room at Montgomery Regional Hospital about noon with flu-like symptoms. Doctors examined him but found nothing to suggest meningitis such as the headaches or neck aches that typically accompany the illness, they said. It was a different story when Riley returned to the hospital by ambulance around midnight, and doctors became more concerned.

When nurse Marybeth Coluni, who is an infection prevention specialist, noticed a severe rash on Riley’s legs and feet, medical personnel suspected meningitis.

“A lumbar puncture proved it,” she added.

That particular morph of meningitis can be resistant to antibiotics commonly used to treat the illness, and he had to be put on a ventilator after he became worse.

The morning after he was admitted to Montgomery Regional, doctors transferred Riley – on a ventilator – to Lewis-Gale where critical care and pulmonary specialist Dr. David Killeen could see him. Killeen administered Xigris, which he explained is a drug not usually used to fight meningitis.

It proved to be the right one in Riley’s case.

He said he doesn’t remember much after arriving at Montgomery Regional for the second time until he work up in ICU at Lewis-Gale. Of his brush with death he said only, “I had good doctors, good timing and I was lucky.”

Hospitals don’t normally release information about patients, but Riley said he wanted to talk to media because he hoped his story would make people more aware of what to do if they have symptoms like his.

HCA Southwest Virginia President Victor Giovanetti had praise for the staff at both hospitals. “Our staff handled this case exactly the way we hoped they would when we put our integrated systems in place,” he said.

“We place a high priority on getting patients to the right specialist unimpeded by delays and red tape. We are so pleased to be able to tell of Scott’s remarkable recovery.”