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Meningitis outbreak: UC Santa Barbara lacrosse player's feet amputated

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The family of a UC Santa Barbara lacrosse player whose feet had to be amputated after he came down with meningitis last month says that they have been overwhelmed by the public's support.

Aaron Loy is one of four student meningitis cases confirmed on campus last month. Two other men and one woman have since returned to class or are recovering. Loy's infection, however, has been marked by bouts of kidney failure, blood poisoning, tissue wounds, and, eventually, amputation.

His parents, Mike and Kristen, track their son's daily progress on the Caring Bridge website. Both thanked Loy’s friends, who rushed their son to the emergency room after noticing signs of the disease earlier in November.

“With his intubation tube out, his speech, strength and awareness improve incrementally each day,” Loy’s family wrote in a Tuesday post. “These ‘baby steps’ are actually ‘HUGE STEPS’ recognizing the severity of where he was.”

The president of UC Santa Barbara's men's lacrosse team referred inquiries on Loy's condition to the university's director of media relations, George Foulsham. Foulsham declined to comment on any of the four infected students due to medical privacy concerns.

Students at the campus have been urged to avoid social gatherings, while sororities and fraternities were advised against holding parties and other events to avoid transmission of the meningococcal disease, a bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can cause long-term damage and death.

A top federal health expert called simultaneous outbreaks at UC Santa Barbara and Princeton University, which is battling an outbreak of a similar bacteria contracted by eight students since March, as "pretty unusual."

UC Santa Barbara students have also started to become more anxious.

"The paranoia is absolutely terrible," Olivia Ravasio, a 20-year-old senior, said in an email. "Wake up and your neck hurts. On any other day, you think nothing of it, but now it's like, 'Should I go to the hospital? Why does my head hurt? Better safe than sorry?' "

The damage the disease has wrought on a talented lacrosse player has no doubt fueled those fears. Jesse Foss, Loy's former high school lacrosse coach in Encinitas, said Loy played for the varsity team for three years, earning the All CIF Player recognition twice. 

La Costa Canyon High School soccer and lacrosse players hosted a carwash for Loy last weekend, raising more than $8,000, garnering support from high school alumni, Foss said. 

"He's an incredible kid, always has a smile on his face," Foss said. "There's a lot of people who care about him."

Clad in a white shirt with a lacrosse stick in hand, the Cardiff Kook statue on San Diego’s coastline displays a sign for passersby: "Support Aaron Loy."

Hundreds of comments also filled the Loy's Caring Bridge page as donations for his medical bills continue to trickle in.

Help Hope Live and Pacific Premier Bank have established funds in Loy’s name. Contributions will finance medical costs, specialized equipment needs and future athletic prosthetics not covered by his insurance, according to his Caring Bridge page.

Loy's recovery may have put a temporary halt to the UC Santa Barbara freshman's menu of Habit burgers and Freebird burritos while he relies primarily on a feeding tube at UC San Diego Medical Center. But according to his family, it's all about the smaller things.

“He relishes his daily Jamba Juice… those simple pleasures in life!” his family wrote in a post this week.

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Twitter: @AliciaDotBanks

alicia.banks@latimes.com

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