A Cal Poly student died over the Thanksgiving break after suffering flu-like symptoms and neck pain, a shock to fraternity members in the Greek organization he was rushing, who said he seemed fine.
Nicholas Reid Brown, 20, a construction management major, died about 1 a.m. Nov. 29 while visiting his family in the San Diego area over the Thanksgiving break.
The “working diagnosis” for the cause of his death is acute myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, a San Diego County Public Health Department spokesman said.
Brown had been sick “with a low grade fever off and on most of the week, but Saturday night he experienced a seizure which caused his heart to stop,” his father, Greg Brown, wrote in a message shared on a Facebook memorial page for his son.
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Brown told San Diego’s ABC 10 news that his son was perfectly healthy when he came home for Thanksgiving, but then developed a fever and complained of pain in his neck. His parents initially figured it was the flu. By the time paramedics arrived, Brown wasn’t breathing. He was pronounced dead at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla.
His family suspected bacterial meningitis, according to the TV interview. The San Diego County health department said late Friday that no evidence of bacterial and viral meningitis was found in the autopsy.
“I’ve been in contact with the medical examiner and the working diagnosis is that it was acute myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart,” said Craig Sturak, the county’s public health spokesman. “Testing is being done to see what the cause of the heart inflammation was.”
No cause of death has been determined yet in Brown’s death, the San Diego County’s Department of the Medical Examiner confirmed. The department is continuing to investigate, but no further information was available Friday with the investigating doctor, Othon Mena, out of the office.
I find some solace that he was able to spend his last week with his family.
Matt Duncan, Cal Poly Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity member
On Nov. 6, Cal Poly’s medical director, Karen Hord Sandquist, reported five cases of viral meningitis diagnosed in Cal Poly students in an email to the campus community. Viral meningitis is not considered as dangerous as bacterial meningitis.
No case of bacterial meningitis has been diagnosed on or connected to the Cal Poly campus for several years, said Matt Lazier, Cal Poly’s spokesman.
Dr. Penny Borenstein, the county public health officer, said “there are sufficient preliminary results to assure the community that the cause of death is not attributable to a contagious disease.” No cases of bacterial meningitis have been found in the county or in residents of the county since January 2015, she said.
“There also is no relationship between the illness and death of Nick Brown and a cluster of viral meningitis cases which was reported in early November,” Borenstein said.
The testing will be to see what the cause of the heart inflammation was.
Craig Sturak, San Diego County Public Health
Nick Brown was a graduate of Westview High School in Torrey Highlands, a community of San Diego in the Poway school district, where he played football, baseball and wrestled. He was an associate member of Cal Poly’s Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity, meaning he was pledging the fraternity, said Matt Duncan, who was acting as Brown’s “big brother” during the pledge process.
Duncan said Brown was extremely excited about joining the fraternity, and was a virtual shoo-in for selection. He would frequently visit Duncan, who lives in a house with five other “Phi Sig” brothers.
“He was all smiles, never in a bad mood,” Duncan said. “He was beyond excited about joining the fraternity. I really connected with him.”
Duncan said Brown was eager to join intrafraternity football games and other activities. Duncan said other fraternity members didn’t notice any symptoms of serious illness while spending time with Brown. Duncan believes he left for home on Tuesday or Wednesday during Thanksgiving week.
“We all thought he was fine,” Duncan said. “I find some solace that he was able to spend his last week with his family. I think it would have been a lot harder if they were apart.”
Duncan said that funds from the fraternity’s fundraiser on Thursday went to Brown’s funeral expenses; so far it has raised more than $9,600.
“Nick was known by Phi Sig brothers as the guy who never stopped smiling, always hard working, a guy that could always cheer you up, and a son and brother that was eternally grateful for his family,” the fraternity wrote on a memorial fund website.
A service for Brown was held Friday at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Poway.