Beloved Teacher Did Not Know She Had Meningitis: Parents

The disease that took the life of a beloved 39-year-old teacher came on suddenly, and remained a mystery to her and to hospital doctors during the hours they struggled to save her life, her parents said.

Ramona Gedley taught third-graders at South Gate's Montara Avenue Elementary School. Four days after her death on Feb. 6, the cause was identified as meningitis, a rare but communicable bacterial infection.

After being notified of the meningitis death, public health personnel responded to the school Friday, meeting with the parents of the students in Gedney's class, and providing the children precautionary treatment with antiobiotics. Some teachers who had close contact with Gedney were also treated prophylactically with antibiotics.

Eight days before her death, Gedney came down with a light breathing wheeze that was treated with prednisone, said family members, and she continued to teach class that week. Family members do not believe the wheeze was related to the meningitis onset a week later.

"She would never knowingly put her kids at risk," Gedney's parents said.

The family provided this summary of her final day:  On the morning of Feb. 6, she woke up with a rising fever and called in sick for work. She experienced difficulty breathing and other symptoms, but not the stiff neck that is often characteristic of meningitis. Mid-afternoon the family called 911 and Gedney was transported to a hospital. She remained conscious as her condition worsened. Late evening, her heart stopped beating. Doctors tried, but could not revive her.

The family learned from the coroner's office Monday that the hospital analysis was sufficient to determine cause of death, and an autopsy will not be necessary.

Los Angeles County Public Health and school officials held two meetings with school parents on Monday. Some parents wondered if students outside Gedney's class should also be treated with antibiotics, but were told this was not necessary and that treatment would unnecessarily expose them to side effects. The Public Health response went beyond required guidelines, said Ben Schwartz, MD, Los Angeles County Public Health's acting director for acute communicable diseases.

"This was done in an excess of caution, and actually goes beyond CDC national recommendations," Schwartz said. Transmission of the disease requires close contact, he added.

The incubation window for meningitis exposure is regarded as closing after ten days. Monday marked ten days since Gedney had last been at school.

Public Health said no new cases have appeared, not within the school community, nor within Gedney's family or other contacts in her personal life.

Only 20 cases of meningitis were reported all of last year in all of Los Angeles County, Schwartz said.

How Gedney became ill with the bacterial infection may never be known. The bacteria can be carried in the nose and throat. Ten percent of those infected never develop symptoms, and therefore have no knowledge of being contagious.

Gedney's parents said she loved teaching elementary school, and went the extra mile of obtaining a master's degree and national board certification.

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