MRSA case at Southeast H.S. and the troubling chain of stories

UPDATE BELOW…

The image “https://i1.wp.com/www.gcsnc.com/schools/high/sehs/SEHigh.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

A recent confirmed case of the MRSA “staph” infection was reported at Southeast Guilford H.S.

But it was the actual chain of events, in terms of how the case was handled, how the story was disseminated in the media, and how things may have been “swept under the rug” (in true GCS fashion) that is more troubling to me.

I’m going to defer to the News & Record’s John Robinson, who has a very comprehensive play-by-play on his blog today on how this story unfolded and who potentially may be at fault:

Evolution of a story

On Saturday, we published a story about a case of MRSA at Southeast High School. In that story, the parents of two wrestlers, one who has MRSA and another who has a staph infection, spoke on the record that they thought their sons contracted the staph through wrestling.
The image “https://i1.wp.com/schoolcenter.gcsnc.com/images/pageitems/186543/p251484570_129233.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The parents said the wrestling coach [Jim Cox, pictured] knew about it but encouraged the boys to wrestle anyway. School officials were unavailable for comment, although they knew we were working on the story.
On Tuesday, we published a story in which the wrestling coach said the two parents were disgruntled, but he declined to elaborate. He said school officials told him not to comment.
The image “https://i2.wp.com/www.gcsnc.com/schools/images/Ralph%20Kitley%20-%20GTCC%20MC%20of%20Ent..JPG” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. The school principal [Ralph Kitley, pictured] and the school system’s athletic director were unavailable for comment.
On Wednesday, we published a story in which the school principal said the complaints of the parents were investigated beginning in December and found no wrongdoing on the part of the school or coach.

We have heard from people who said we should not have published the original story with the claims of the parents. That we should have waited, gathered more information — information that would have shown the parents as having a vendetta against the coach — and, presumably, killed the story. I appreciate that position, I really do. But stories that have different “sides” rarely come out fully baked. People don’t always tell everything they know. Government institutions rarely do, in my experience. Information comes out in dribs and drabs.

Here’s what we knew Friday: A case of MRSA is reported at Southeast. It involved a wrestler, who said he thought he contracted a staph infection at a wrestling match. His parents said he was encouraged to keep wrestling anyway. We’re not going to report that? It is a public health issue. Did we try to get response from the appropriate school officials. Oh yeah. They knew we were working on the story.

Finally, Tuesday, the principal responds with the school’s version. This couldn’t be told on Friday?

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. When a reporter calls with questions, tell what you know even if you don’t want to. If you stonewall, you put yourself at the mercy of those who WILL talk to the reporter. This could have been a one-day story, but it spun into, at least, a five-day story.

The school system is pretty bad at volunteering information on sensitive issues in a timely way. The city is becoming that way. Unfortunate, for many reasons.

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Robinson is right…this is a public health issue. And it could have easily turned into a public health nightmare if this story wasn’t reported.

GCS has gotten real lousy lately at practicing damage control. This mess really has to stop.

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UPDATE: Joel Gillespie has a pretty interesting take on this on his blog today. Gillespie says the N&R and CBS-2 blew it, suggesting that federal HIPAA regulations may have been violated with the reporting of this story.

E.C. 🙂

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18 Responses

  1. I’d be interested to know, from the Health Dept., what the appropriate steps are when a highly contagious disease is suspected in a public facility–namely a school. MRSA is NOT something to be taken lightly and obviously the school administration does not know the appropriate steps nor the ramifications of such an outbreak.

  2. The school administration does in fact know the appropriate steps to be taken, and they have been taken. As to Robinson’s take above, there are two stories, one which should have been released immediately, one which should not have been. That a student at a school has MRSA is a matter of public health and people need to know that. The question as to whether people at the school had been encouraging the student to wrestle anyway is a whole different matter. The original reporter told me that leaving messages late on a Friday amounted to doing “everything” to fact check his story. So, he e-mails or leaves a voice mail late on a Friday and does not hear back in time and he considers that doing everything? All that needed to be reported was that a case of MRSA had been reported. The rest could have waited. The reporter also said to me that he was under pressure to print the story.

    The wrestler in question wrestles not only at SE but also in a wrestling club. Has anyone checked that out? The same wrestler had been diagnosed with staph a month before and had not been wrestling with SE since then.

    Robinson’s comments that doing a better job getting the story amounts to killing the story is ridiculous. You’re talking about ruining a man’s reputation. Give me a break.

    And, by the way, the Cox’s have no record of having been contacted by the reporter. Maybe he called them, maybe he didn’t. What number did he call – the school number? Was Coach Cox around? A cell number? A home number? Did he leave a voice mail? How many voice mails do you get which you do not access or even know about for an hour or two. I get a lot. The Cox’s know of no call. They are truthful people.

    By the time Tuesday came around, after the original story, particularly given what was claimed had been released, you bet that folks aren’t going to talk to the reporter. Besides, the information that they have they which would vindicate them they can’t release. It’s not only HIPAA laws it’s valid local GCS regulations about releasing information about students. But by Tuesday it was too late for that.

    This story on Saturday had nothing whatsoever – not even the slightest little thing – to do with keeping this from turning into some nightmare. The kid hadn’t wrestled for the school for a month. What nightmare was avoided? The school would not let a kid with MRSA wrestle, period. Who do you think these people are? There was no nightmare to avoid.

    Is anybody other than me curious that the same kid was back in school Tuesday? It’s a sidebar, but I am curious.

    In other words, there was nothing happening or going to happen kept from happening. A boy who was not wrestling anyway continued not to be able to wrestle. Wow. That’s big news.

    The public has a right to know the real story, and that is the motive behind the parent’s anger at the coaches. This story is the same old story – a parent mad at a coach because his little boy isn’t playing enough or whatever. It will all come out, in time.

  3. Huey,

    Actually I did not mean to claim that the N&R had violated these laws and regulations. In fact, the mother gave this information regarding her minor child to the paper. I think that is perfectly legal. What I meant to say is that the only way the school can vindicate the coach and principal would be to release information they cannot release – specific health data which would establish a time line, and personal information about the kids. So they can’t really talk to the reporters or tell them what would otherwise be most helpful. Their hands are tied. t is not a cover up. As ticked off as I am at the N&R at the moment, I did not intend to claim that they had violated any of these laws or regulations.

  4. Joel, For your information this wrestler was in the wrestling room working out until a few days ago, No he did not wrestle but he was in the wrestling room with the other wrestlers and could have exposed the entire team to a Staph infection or MRSA. This wrestler had a bad Staph Infection on January 3rd and was allowed to wrestle in a match against Southwest Randolph, his mother took him to the Doctor on January 4th and it was confirmed to be a Staph Infection, this boys legs had blisters on them, photo’s were taken of his legs the nite the match was over. This wrestler was forced to work out in the wrestling room until January 15th in fear of being kicked off the team or having to do make ups. It was said that he was not on the mat, bs the entire floor of the wrestling room has a mat . The other wrestler has had Staph twice, he wrestled in the morehead tournament on December 8th with a Staph Infection, a mother on the wrestling team pointed out this boys leg to his father she said what is wrong with …leg? the boy’s father looked at his leg and told the coaches he was going to take his son to the Doctor, the coached told his father that he needed to wrestle and to cover up the boil with his shorts, this boy wrestled several schools and put several boys at risk of contracting a Staph Infection. The boys father took him to the doctor and it was confirmed that he had a staph infection. This boy gave the coaches his doctor note, that day he went home on the bus Jed Cox called him on his cell phone and told him to get back to the wrestling room, his father took him back and he wrestled for several day’s with his team mates, he also put the entire team at risk. These parents have every right to be upset if you ask me. The boy that was confirmed to have MRSA is still under a doctors care and is on very high doses of antibiotics, his docter did allow him to go back to school, he is to wear long pants and long sleeve shirts, no sports what so ever. So now that you’ve hurd the truth maybe you can understand why these parents are so upset. I am glad this story was told, I think the parents of Southeast had every right to know, and yes this boy was at school with this MRSA Infection up until Thursday January 24th, alot of students did come in contact with this boy I am sure, so YES it could have been a nite mare. I would like to thank the parents that came forward, If this was your child how would you feel?

  5. First off, let me say that the school may know the proper protocal, but it wasn’t followed. Of course, they say it was, but being a parent of one of these wrestlers, NO IT WAS NOT FOLLOWED. Secondly, Joel, MRSA IS airborne. Go to the hospital and tell them you have MRSA from a previous diagnosis and see what they do to you. Let me tell you, you will be in a private room and a “sign” will be placed outside your CLOSED door alerting all to see the nurse before entering, and when anyone enters your room, they will be wearing a gown, gloves, and MASK. Now, I ask you, if it isn’t air borne, why would they cover their face?
    Next, the school did NOT report things truthfully. The principal stated there were only 2 cases of staph and one case of MRSA. There actually have been 4 cases of staph, dating back to November 2007. If you recall, back in October of 2007, there were several schools that had MRSA. Where did our school get it from? Probably one of those kids. And the reason we got it is probably the same reason this is being discussed now. The coaches didn’t follow protocal and they tried to keep it “hush hush”. The first boy that had it was hospitalized due to its severity. The parents weren’t notified that our bons had been exposed, which was one of the first questions the princiapl asked in that fateful meeting. The 2nd case of staph was in December of 2007. He was noted to have a swollen area on his leg. This was at a tournament. The boy’s father wanted to take him out of the tournament then and have it checked out. He was told no by the coaches, just keep it covered up and go on and wrestle. Now, “keep it covered up” was not from a doctor bandaging it up. The coaches didn’t even bandage it. What they meant was, keep your shorts pulled down low enough to cover it. Also, at one of these tournaments, jed thought he had been infected by MRSA because he had a “bump”. He had his mother take him from the tournament to get checked out in the middle of the tournament only to be diagnosed with an ingrown hair. The 3rd case of staph was diagnosed after a wrestling match on January 3rd. The mother of the child came in WHILE the boy was wrestling. Across the gym, you could see the blisters on this child’s leg. He had blisters on the front of his legs, the back of his legs. and his arms. Prior to the match, the coaches looked at thim and said, “that looks like the M word but don’t tell anyone. The referree for whatever reason, looked at the boy’s legs and questioned the coach. Guess what? That truthful coach you say gave the ref a note fromm the month before related to a totally different situation. Had the mother got there BEFORE the match, she would not have allowed him to wrestle. So, becasue the coaches had him wrestle, those blisters burst, and sheared the top layer of skin off him,. Think about when you get burned and the blister pops, the burning sensation that you feel when air hits it. Imagine how this child felt. He could hardly stand to walk that night. The fourth case of staph was actually the 2nd boy got it again. Why? Keep in mind, these are boys who have wrestled since middle school who live, walk, talk, and breathe wrestling. These boys go outside of school for further training. You young man went to PA the whole summer and wrestled in multiple tournaments and won championships left and right. Wrestling is everything to them. Now, their parents took these boys to the doctors and were told they were not to particiapate until further notice, no matches, no tournaments, no practices. The coaches received the doctors notes and sent email verification that they had received them to the parents. HOWEVER, when the boys weren’t at practice, they were called and told to get to practice or risk losing their place on the team. One boy was actually told to get his a** to practice or he would be off the team. We have video proof of them on the mats practicing, wrestling in school matches, and tournaments WHILE under doctors order NOT to.
    Now, all that being said, the reporter had all this verification brought to him at the inital meeting. If the coach says he never received a call, I would think twice before believing him after what WE KNOW TO BE TRUE.. The school did NOT start investigating this until 1/9 AFTER the parent meeting. The reason this went to the news was because the school was backing up the coaches and lies were being told. The parents said all along that all this wasn’t jim cox, BUT, since he is the head coach, he is ultimately responsible for what his assistant coaches do, especailly his son jed.
    The nightmare that the parents were trying to avoid was the probable outbreak of stap infections and MRSA in other schools. The doctors stated that these staph infections were highly contagious.Imagine giving a staph infection to your Grandfather who has end stage lung cancer. Imagine giving staph to your brother who is a toddler with RSV. These infections could kill them.The parents actually wanted to notify the other schools that we had wrestled against to notify the coaches so that the wrestlers’ parents would be aware of what to possibly look for.
    These boys have been very active in wrestling and wrestle each match. So, no Joel, you are wrong. This has nothing to do with “a parent mad at a coach because his little boy isn’t playing enough or whatever.” He has everything to do with our children were put at risk for contaminating other wrestlers, their families, and causing a possible epidemic of staph which could have resulted in MRSA, as was the case of that one boy. These parents worked with the school for over a month, back and forth. So, they went to the newspaper and the news, knowing full well that they had the documentation and videos to back up what they said. They also knew that :bearing false witness against thy neighbor” is punishable with a big fat lawsuit. Do you actually think they would be stupid enough to go through all this over a parent pissed off because the coach didn’t play his/her child enough? Come on!! Not to mention putting their child’s name at risk. I might also add, the coaches told the other wrestlers not to talk to this young man. Now, how childish is that?
    What bothers me further more is the fact that other coaches have told parents at other schools , not to say anything about MRSA being at southeast. I would hope that other coaches would think more about their wrestlers than that. But, apparently, that isn’t the case. I have been told by other parents that their son’s coach told them not to talk about it to other parents. Why? What if another wrestler comes up with blisters? Knowing this is happening at southeast, would you not be concerned about your own wrestlers? Especially, when you know that you have wrestled against southeast.
    The parents of this case did not go into this blindly. They went in with their eyes wide open. They trusted the school to do the right thing and they didn’t. So, they had to take things farther up the ladder, and will continue to climb that ladder until the proper changes are made.

  6. If I had the luxury of posting as anonymous, where I could say all sorts of things I know about, I would, but I don’t. So you get the last word – for now.

  7. The things said previously are the truth. Understand this, we are not out to ruin someone’s name. But someone has to take responsibilty for what has happened. The coaches aren’t, the school isn’t. Action needs to be taken and numerous corrections in policies need to be changed. The parents never wanted this to go this far. But this is a serious matter. When someone’s immune system is already comprimised, even a slight cold could kill them. They thought about the child whose Grandfather had cancer. They thought about the boy whose baby brother had RSV. Those thoughts laid heavily on these parents minds. Not to mention the fact that we can’t seem to break this circle of infections. It keeps getting passed back and forth among our boys. We are terrified for our children. Imagine what our boys are thinking. The young man with MRSA asked his mother if he was going to die from this. Put yourself in his shoes. He is scared to death. I’m truly shocked that no more parents have voiced concerns over this. But then again, their child doens’t have this infection. Their child didn’t go through what some of these boys have had to deal with, thankfully. But the fact of the matter is that some did and still are. That’s who these parents are fighting for. Someone has to.

  8. Joel –

    You seem to have taken sides here with the school and are completely unwilling to see the potential dangers of continued contact sports.
    The bottom line here is kids with illnesses – contagious disease in one case at least – are being allowed to continue contact with others in their sport, and that is wrong, regardless of the school’s “official” position. The way the reports came in indicates to me that the school is more concerned with their precious wrestling coach and team rankings.
    I could give a whit about “protocol” when it comes to a child’s safety; the right thing to do (In hindsight) would have been for the coach to say “I’m not letting anyone wrestle with sores UNLESS you get them checked by a doctor and you are specifically cleared to wrestle (Or whatever the sport is)
    Again, it sounds like the school administrators are hiding behind their “protocol”. Will be interesting to see how long that protocol will last when other kids start popping up with MRSA.

  9. Kevin, you hit the nail on the head! Thank God someone finally sees what this is all about! The parents trusted the coaches to treat their sons as their own and to do right by them. What should have happened was the coaches shouldn’t have let them wrestle since they didn’t know what the child was dealing with and NOT let them participate until they received a note from the doctor clearing them. This was not done. These young men were put at risk for points and point standings. This is negligence, plain and simple.

  10. Joel,
    First let me tell you how appauld I am that the coaches,the school or any entity that we trust to protect and educate the youth of America. This was absolutely poor judgement by the coaches, the school, the principal and any others who knew and tried to cover up this horrific illness/ disease from the public and the possible outbreak that might occur due to the selfishness of the coaches and school. I thought after hireing the Police to protect our children from any possible security issues, that our educators would take the best interest of our children and protect them too! Apparently we are not being careful in our screening those who we are to trust, protect and educate. What you have done is jeopardized, not only Greensboro, but, every community these kids wrestled in. You have probably started an epidemic like the plague and somewhere, somehow, someone will dye due to the negligence of the coaches, the school and the Superintendent that hired these idiots. They all will be lucky if the parents do not sue them for there greed to compete. I was a pro athlete and never,ever did we jeopardize our health or anyone elder healthbto Win. This is not what life is about. Educate and be pro-active not reactive. Steve

  11. As a parent I have lost all faith in our school system, it’s apparent that our kids are not as safe as we thought, it’s also apparent that the school is NOT doing what should be done in this case concerning these coaches, WHY? I am sure alot of parents out there have this same question. It’s a fact that these coaches were wrong concerning these wrestlers. Parents stand up for your children and pray that this or any thing like this doesn’t happen to your child becuase as in this case its seems at this point that the school system does not have your childs best interest at heart at Southeast High School anyway, if they let these coaches get away with this then I am sure there will be alot of parents that will surely fear for the safty of their children.

  12. Same old story,

    The principal / athletic director and coaches
    disregarding the children’s health and safety (your first priority) completely, in exchange for a trophy and/or championship.
    A question for each of them….. if this were your child, would you feel the same?
    If they feel think MSRA is not airborne , STAPH is not contagious, “just keep it covered up and continue”
    These idiots need to be removed from the school
    system , take a tour through the hospitals, then check
    themselves in at Butner for an evaluation!

  13. We don’t need any school to catch things ‘just in time’, or delay reporting contageous diseases. The school has to step up and explain where things went wrong. Grow a backbone!! They have had ample time to prove their case. If innocent, why are they not shouting it to the world.

    As the old saying goes, it’s ‘too little, too late’ for the students that are infected. Their families have been, and continue to be, dealing with mental stress, and maybe even financial stress due to paying bills such as doctor, hospital, and medications. Parents have lost time from work and laid awake sleepless nights.

    Common sense tells us that we always stay away from people we know are contageous. That means students with staph/MRSA are being rejected by other students.

    These high school students haven’t forgotten 9/11. This was a tender and impressionable age for them. They saw on a daily basis the fear on their parents faces and in their actions as our country moved forward. They learned too much about fear at such a young age and saw and felt things they could not put into perspective. Students across this great country deserve feeling all the protection that can be brought into their young lives.

    Stress has affected all of us and we carry it with us everywhere. I’m sure that many students anxiety levels go up the moment they enter school grounds. They hear about shootings, stabbings, beatings, etc. They understand they are not safe in the confinements of restrooms and empty hallways. Some come to school with the weight of the world on their shoulders and then some even return to homes where there are all kinds of mental and physical abuse. In light of all this, WHY WOULD WE ALSO PUT THEIR HEALTH IN JEAPRODY?

    I pray the school will step up to the plate and not wait until everything feels right to make the proper changes needed to solve this issue. To the school: Let this year end with more determination than ever to rise above the current situation. DO THIS FOR THE CHILDREN, DO IT FOR YOURSELVES.

  14. HI everyone…
    I think someone needs to explain the difference between MRSA and Staff..
    Staff is an abbreviation for Staphylococcus aureus.. the most common of bacterium found virtually EVERYWHERE. It up YOUR nose… and it is On YOUR hands right now! When you have a little cut on your finger and it swells a bit.. it probably has staff.. because statt is present on normal skin…. but when it gets INSIDE the body it causes an infection…so you put some bacitracin on it and it goes away. MRSA on the other hand, is a form of that very same staff, that does not respond to bacitracin.. as a matter of fact, it is not responsive to most antibiotics.. it is said to be METHICILLIN RESISTANT… thus MRSA ( Methicillin reisitant Staff Aurius) It is killed with another antibiotic, Vancomycin, for example. It is indeed more difficult to destroy than your every day staff…but it is NOT indestructable!
    MRSA of the skin, or wound can be contained with a dressing and as long as you do not come into direct contact with it.. from that wound to YOUR OPEN SKIN.. you will not be invaded by it.
    Respiratory MRSA is MRSA of the respiratory tract and is AIR BORNE… Skin MRSA is not. When you see a patient in the hospital on respiratory isolation it is for RESPIRATORY MRSA, NOT SKIN.
    We are all vulnerable to staff infections.. and we all get them. The human eye can NOT distinguish between what is MRSA and what is Staff… not the coach… not the janitor.. not even the surgeon general.. this is done with a lab sample ONLY.

  15. The problem with wrestlers is they get mat burns, abrasions, cuts, scratches, etc from practicing, and full wrestling, pretty much on a daily basis. That comes with the territory and we all accept that. If one has staph or MRSA and it comes in contact with another wrestlers open sores, there in lies the problem. These areas were not covered at all except by the shorts being pulled down far enough to cover it from the human eye. There was drainage from the open areas, especially the young man with the blisters. The blisters were not opened until he wrestled, which opened him up for further infections, thus, it turned into MRSA weeks later while being treated with high doses of antibiotics, all the while, he was still practicing, and wrestling even though the coaches had doctors’ order that he wasn’t to be doing any of that. The young man with staph on his leg had an area that had to be lanced open. He will still in that wrestling room with his teammates practicing and conditioning.
    The bottom line is the coaches KNEW there was a problem. They didn’t know what these areas were but they also didn’t KNOW if what they had was or was not contagious. They still had them wrestling amongst the teammates, as well as with other boys from various other schools. Even after they did know what the problem was, after these boys had gone to the doctors and the coaches received the doctor’s orders they were NOT to participate in any form or fashion, they still had them wrestling with their teammates, as well as other various schools. They told these young men if they weren’t at practice. they could lose their spot on the wrestling team. The coaches looked at these areas, even made comments stating “that looks like the M word but don’t tell anybody”, and still had them wrestling. The point these parents have tried to make is….if there is an area that is questionable, don’t let them wrestle. In the situation with the young man with the blisters, just looking at the pictures is painful. Whether the coaches thought it was contagious of not, the coaches should not have let him wrestle if for no other reason but that the blisters would have popped and been painful to the young man.
    There is an understanding that these young men will get hurt somehow during any sports, serious or not. That is a given and the wrestlers and the parents accept that. However, as a parent, I would like to think that whether I am there or not, my child will be taken care of and looked after. His safety should be their first priority. This is clearly not the case at southeast with the wrestling coaches.

  16. As we would expect in the work place, in a restaurant, in a hospital, in someone’s home… ANY draining wound should be considered potentially harmful as well as contagious to others, and all universal precautions should be immediately implemented and judiciously maintained.
    I believe it is reasonable to say that, knowingly subjecting children to an open wound is simply blatant disregard of the potential for negative outcome, (whether it is MRSA or any other bacterium.. ) and should be handled as a serious offense.

  17. Thank you. That is what we had tried to get the school to see from day one.

  18. I am a well respected man of the community, I have a son in Southeast High school. If these coaches are still there next year my son will not wrestle, and from speaking with some other boys on the team they are not going to wrestle either. From speaking with several parents and children that are in middle school and will be in high school next year none of these boys will go out for wrestling, some parents are going to send there sons to other schools so they can follow there dream to wrestle in high school. It’s a fact we only have very few wrestlers left on the team. Why? because our sons refuse to wrestle for these coaches. Southeast has several great wrestlers that I am sure would join the team if these coaches were dismissed as they should be. A team with only a hand full of members is a team with a serious problem, the problem is these coaches, most everyone knows it. If everyone that says they are not going wrestle next year does not wrestle, Southeast will not have a wrestling team next year.

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