Rachel Futterman went to her job at Gator’s Dockside on Thursday feeling fine.
The brown-haired, 19-year-old sophomore in the Delta Gamma sorority went to bed that night complaining of a slight stomach ache.
Less than 48 hours later she was in a coma. By Sunday she was on life support. Monday, news was released that she had died from a case of bacterial meningitis.
The swift decline in the health of Futterman, who was removed from life support by her family Monday morning, has left friends, family and sorority sisters struggling to make sense of the loss of a life clipped short just as it had begun to bloom.
“Everyone really thought she would spend a couple of days in the hospital and be fine,” said Alyssa Wennlund, president of the USF’s Delta Gamma chapter. “It was tragic.”
Nearly 90 sisters of Delta Gamma filled the first three rows of folding chairs set up for the ceremony held in remembrance of Futterman at the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza Monday night. Nearly all of them blotted the corners of wet eyes with white handkerchiefs.
Close to 500 other students, faculty and staff joined them. Much of the crowd was composed of a Greek community hit hard by the news of Futterman’s sudden illness.
Many of USF’s fraternity and sorority members were informed by e-mail Sunday that Futterman’s illness had left her without brain function.
“We at USF are feeling her death as one of us, as part of us,” President Judy Genshaft said at the ceremony. “We will continue to do everything we can to support (Futterman’s) family and all of those who knew her.”
Guiding the family and friends through the difficult grieving process was one of many concerns faced by University administrators after Futterman’s illness was diagnosed Saturday at University Community Hospital.
Since the University sent an e-mail to students Saturday explaining that a student had been diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, campus administrators have had their hands full distributing doses of antibiotics and calming concerned parents and students, said Vice President of Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall.
“There were a lot of rumors out there about meningitis,” Meningall said. “Naturally, lots of people thought that they could contract meningitis just by being in the same room with (Futterman). We’re just trying to get the correct information out there.”
Futterman was admitted to the hospital Saturday morning when she began to have seizures, according to an e-mail from Assistant Dean of Students for Greek Life Megan Vadnais. Soon after admittance, Futterman fell into a drug-induced coma and was placed on life support, the e-mail stated.
Egilda Terenzi, director of Student Health Services, said that by noon Monday the University had administered about 70 doses of Cipro, an antibiotic pill that fights meningitis, to students thought to have had direct contact
More doses of Cipro and vaccines have been ordered, Terenzi said, adding that Student Health Services had also administered 50 shots of a meningitis vaccine
“I’ve talked to hundreds of concerned parents and students in the last couple of days,” Terenzi said. “I don’t have an exact number. The line continues.”
News of a student infected with meningitis created a rush on Student Health Services and a minor outbreak of hypochondria.
Tatiana Pairot, a junior majoring in creative writing, said she decided to get the vaccine after she began to show some of the flu-like symptoms associated with meningitis.
“I had a fever, I was nauseous, I had all the symptoms so I kind of freaked out,” said Pairot, who lives off-campus. “They asked me if I got into contact with (Futterman), but who knows, people who might have come into contact with her could have come into contact with me, so it’s better safe than sorry.”
By Saturday night, all of Futterman’s coworkers and women of the Delta Gamma sorority who had come in direct contact with Futterman since Wednesday had received doses of Cipro, said USF spokesman Ken Gullette.
Though one student experiencing symptoms associated with meningitis was admitted to the hospital, he was later released with a clean bill of health. No new cases of meningitis have been reported.
Warren McDougle, Epidemiology Program Manager with the Hillsborough County Health Department said no danger of infection exists for customers at Gator’s Dockside, where Futterman was being trained as a server.
Students in college are generally more prone to meningitis than other people, said McDougle.
“These are often young people burning candle at both ends, who don’t get enough sleep or eat well and who are in close proximity to other students,” said McDougle. “This makes their immune systems more susceptible (to infection).”
Greeks pull together
As news of Futterman’s condition became public late Sunday night, fraternity and sorority members huddled together amid misting rain in the Greek Village.
Their support continued today. Ribbons of baby blue, pink and bronze – the colors of the Delta Gamma sorority – and yellow ribbons with an ‘R’ for Rachel could be seen pinned to the shirts of many Greek brothers and
A pile of red and pink roses lay across hooks of the metal anchor outside the Delta Gamma sorority.
A message of support from the Delta Delta Delta sorority framed in a heart was taped to the front door of the Delta Gamma house.
“It’s very hard,” said Vadnais. “But this kind of response is what’s so great about living in a supportive community like this one.”
USF’s chapter of Delta Gamma has 86 members. Twenty-six of them live in the house, said Wennlund.
Nearly all of them will head to Futterman’s funeral in Jacksonville tomorrow, said Wennlund. Delta Gamma has also started a memorial fund for Futterman. Donations can be made at the USF Credit Union.
At the memorial service, Futterman’s sisters remembered her for her smile, her energy and her love of volleyball. After the service, a slideshow of pictures of Futterman with her sorority sisters was shown.
“When we need someone to cheer us up, we’re still going to pick up the phone and call her before we realize,” said Wennlund. “I think we are all just trying to take it in right now.”
Reporting from Anna Peters, Ashley Davidson, and Victoria Bekiempis contributed to this report. David Guidi can be contacted at 974-1888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.