Michael Longo’s mother, Kathryn Blain, tells his story.
Out of the Blue
In the beginning, meningitis can be so easily overlooked. On Thursday, Michael told me his back was hurting. We didn’t think anything of it because he had been helping me with garden clean up for a day or two before. On Friday, he said he was feeling a little off, but not sick enough to stay home. That night he went to a party at a friend’s.
Saturday morning the tidal wave struck.
Michael awoke in the morning feeling unwell, by lunchtime he was feeling worse and mid afternoon he collapsed when he tried to get up. We called an ambulance that took him to the hospital. Doctors noticed the septicemia rash right away. He was rushed to the ICU and began treatment immediately. Our minds were racing, how he could be well one day and so ill the next. That’s when hospital officials took my daughter and me aside to tell us that Michael was very ill. They said it would be a race against time; the antibiotics that they would administer would have to grapple the affects that the bacterium was having on Michael’s body. Then they gave substance to our worst fears and told us that he might not live. Everything after that point became so surreal, it was all I could do to not show Michael how really scarred I was. I mustered all my strength to try to be encouraging and assure him that he needed to fight this with all that he had in him. Michael reached out and stroked my face as if to encourage me as well. That memory has been so precious to me during many moments of despair. When my children were small and had an elevated temperature I would put a cool compress on their foreheads, Michael took comfort in this and perhaps it was a reminder of his Mother’s Love. We were asked shortly after Michael was taken to ICU to not communicate with Michael as he was having respiratory problems. Shortly after that he was put on a respirator. We waited to see if Michael’s fever would break, and yes it did. Around 2:00 in the morning they decided to do a scan to see if there was swelling of the lining of the brain, we were relieved to find that it was not. I can not put in words the helplessness that a parent feels when you are dealing with a sick child. As a parent I always felt confident that I could deal with any situation my children brought my way. This was too big, and I was not completely sure that the medical team that was caring for Michael really had a handle on it either. They were doing their best but it is not a disease that is that common. They prepared us that Michael perhaps would suffer from kidney failure. At this point I was just starting to feel a little more encouraged and was optimistic to think that if Michael needed to be on kidney dialysis we could deal with it.
At our request Michael was airlifted on Sunday to a hospital in Toronto. I am from Toronto and felt that I wanted my son to be treated at a larger medical facility. As my husband (Michael’s stepfather) and I drove to Toronto I continued to feel hopeful knowing how critical time was and that Michael did show signs of improvement even ever so slightly. The team in Toronto continued to monitor and deal with each problem. Our family gathered and encouraged and prayed. On Monday evening, my husband reminded me that we had not slept since going to bed on Friday night. As Michael did not seem to have changed in the last several hours we decided to go to a nearby hotel and get some rest. Michael’s father, sister and aunt stayed at the hospital. We lay down at midnight and had just closed our eyes when the telephone rang to say that Michael had experienced cardiac arrest. We ran to the hospital to find that a team of doctors were working on Michael’s heart, which they continued to do for an hour. Our son fought to live but it was not to be.
The tidal wave withdrew, taking our son and brother, leaving devastation behind.
I had said that when we were told that Michael may not survive how surreal everything became, this was to be my life for several months that followed his passing. There is so much that is a part of losing child that there are no words to describe. I have thought that you can be a widow if you lose your husband and a widower if you lose your wife, a name does not exist for a parent who loses her child because it is not suppose to happen.
When Michael was 14, a boy in a town not far from where we lived fell ill with meningitis and died. I asked our doctor whether there was a vaccine. He said yes but it was only used when there was an outbreak. I didn’t think of it again. That vaccine might have saved Michael’s life. When Michael and I were driving home from a funeral one day, he seemed very thoughtful. After a while he said, “When I die, I don’t want a typical funeral.” Why would he say that? In all likelihood he would be arranging my funeral, not the other way around. But his funeral wasn’t typical. Two of his high school teachers created a video of his life with photographs and video clips and music that he loved. It was a celebration of a life that touched many others. Michael worked hard, enjoyed life, and gathered many friends around him. He always seemed to have wisdom beyond his years.
I suppose it’s natural, but when Michael died, events I remembered from different times in his life became more significant. At the age of eight he would read the newspaper at breakfast… not just comics or sports, but news. He was always so knowledgeable about the world he had a keen interest in most subjects and also loved the diversity of people. He liked to have fun and enjoyed people with a variety of backgrounds. I often think about Michael and reflect how he has become a role model for me. One of his teachers made a comment "that the ultimate in education is when the student becomes the teacher and the teacher the student", which was his experience with Michael. In that Michael’s impact on my life has become that as my mentor and a tremendous source of encouragement to do what I must do.
In high school, Waterloo city officials asked him to be on a board that was planning the future of the city, they wanted to tap into the vision of young creative minds. Michael had produced a video on the environment, after winning an award from the Rotary Club he quietly left it on the counter not making a big deal about it. For Michael, the process, the doing, was always more important than the end result. And he loved doing.... Michael was School Photographer and Editor of the school newspaper. For his graduating year, rather than produce a year book Michael produced a video year book, he also produced a video for his graduation ceremony using past yearbook photographs and other materials that showed the high school life of the graduates from grade nine through to OAC.
They say a light burns brighter just before it burns out. Perhaps the light in Michael’s life burned brighter because at some level, somewhere, somehow, he knew that it would not burn for as long as we all wanted. May 9, 1995 is a day that our family will never forget. Please do not let this happen to your child. Immunize and protect your loved ones. There is no getting over the loss of a child. It’s a wound that never completely heals.