Our loving niece, Caitlin Boyle, age 19, died of meningococcal meningitis (strain B) on November 16th, 2005. Caitlin was survived by her parents, Eilleen and John, her brother Tim, age 22 and her sister Erin, age 16, as well as 27 aunts and uncles, 32 first cousins, and an endless amount of friends.
Caitlin was a junior, on the Dean’s list, at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, and the captain of her school’s dance team. She was majoring in Psychology Education and was most interested in children with mental disabilities and teenagers suffering from depression. She was also an animal activist and volunteered at a daycare. Everyone that came in contact with Cait knew she radiated love, visibly expressed by her beautiful eyes and bright smile. Growing up in Babylon, NY, Caitlin was always active in community service and had a passion for dance. She trained with the June Claire School of Dance in tap, jazz and ballet for 12 years. She graduated from St. Anthony’s High School in Huntington. While excelling in high school, she played on the lacrosse team and was also the cheerleading captain. Caitlin always ate well and exercised regularly.
So when Caitlin called her mother, Eilleen (my sister) from her Marist dorm room on Sunday November 13th, complaining about a fever, severe headache, light sensitivity, chills, and feeling very achy, her mom thought she had the flu. Cait described it as feeling like she had been hit by a truck. Her legs were also very sore and she thought maybe she overdid her run the day before. Throughout the day, she rang her mom a few more times, feeling worse and worse, her last call was at 1:00 am. Eilleen told Cait to leave her phone by her bed and to call her anytime throughout the night and that she would be up in the morning if she was still feeling sick. Caitlin had been vaccinated for meningitis two years earlier, so the idea of this infection didn’t even cross her parents’ minds.
Around 2:30 am, one of Cait’s housemates called the Boyle’s home and told them Cait was being rushed to the hospital. She told Eilleen that Cait’s color had turned grey and her roommates were very concerned. By 5:00 am Eilleen and John were in the E.R. at St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie with Caitlin. She was being administered antibiotics. Eilleen and John got to speak to Cait briefly, she tried to move her legs for her but Cait cried out in pain, “Mom leave them like they are, they hurt so much” Eilleen noticed a small bruise on her forehead, unbeknownst at the time, this was a sign of her poisoned blood, thinning inside her capillaries. Within minutes Caitlin started coughing and having trouble breathing. Her lungs were filling up with fluid so quickly. The doctors rushed her out of the room to put her on a respirator. That was the last time her parents spoke to Cait. Eilleen remembers a sense of peace within Cait, not fear. The Boyle’s were in such shock, they had no idea of the seriousness, until this moment.
Soon afterward they transferred her up to ICU. She was now in a drug induced coma. Within hours, we were all there, her siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends, totaling at least 30-35 people, in and around the ICU waiting room. We were all there from Monday morning until Caitlin’s passing Wednesday evening at 7:40 pm. The staff at St. Francis was wonderful, we were able to go into her room and be with Caitlin as much as possible. They even allowed us to hang photos of her all around the 3rd floor, reading “Pray for Caitlin”. It was so hard to see her body fill with fluid and become so bruised, the respirator was making her chest move with such abruptness. She looked so sick but we really thought she’d pull through, she was such a strong woman and such a fighter. We were told her organs had shut down; even though they were loading her with antibiotics, the bacteria had done so much damage already. For many of us, it really didn’t sink in just how grave her condition truly was, and even if it had, we couldn’t imagine losing her, so, as fatal as she was, just give her time and her organs will kick back in, just watch.
Due to her level of instability on Monday, the doctors couldn’t turn her over to give her a spinal tap, so we waited for the blood results to find out if she had sepsis or meningitis, or both and if so, what strain. The doctors were treating her for bacterial meningitis right from the beginning. On Tuesday, when they began dialysis and even moved her to go get a CAT scan, we felt this was a positive sign. Her brain functions were normal, yeah!! She had made it through the first 24 hours. In addition, they were able to lower her blood pressure. I’ll never forget the drop of urine they found in her tube that afternoon. We thought for sure her kidneys would kick back in any time now. I was keeping a journal of conversations with the doctors and nurses we were all having, I named it “Cait’s Road to Recovery” it was too overwhelming to try to remember it all and I wanted to share it with her when she was better.
Caitlin’s 20th birthday would be the following Monday, she had asked for a skateboard and planned on learning to ride with her boyfriend, Patrick and one of her best friends, Alana. To encourage more hope in her healing, Eilleen purchased a skateboard and kept it in the ICU waiting room. Although she was on blood pressure medicine, the doctors couldn’t reduce her pulse rate; it stayed around 180 for all 3 days. By Tuesday morning, she had survived those infamous “first 48hrs” that were so crucial. When we looked for some hope from the staff, they didn’t offer too much. They just would respond with “Yes but she’s still very, very sick”. But, “they didn’t know Cait” we felt in our hearts.
I can still remember the feeling when the news came in about 7 pm Wednesday night that Caitlin’s heart went into failure. They were able to revive her. Here we were worried about kidneys, liver, blood, many of us weren’t even thinking of the trauma her heart had been under. A few minutes later we heard the ICU code for emergency and we knew she was having another heart attack. We were all outside the ICU doors crying and praying. The nurse came out and said she had flat lined again but were able to get her back once more. We moved back down the hallway to the waiting room. Caitlin’s best friend, Brittney had just arrived from Florida and came through the elevator doors when, the same nurse came down the hallway and gave us the horrible news that Caitlin had another heart attack and we lost her. We all just dropped to the floor in pain, our moans of sadness is something I will never forget. The level of pain in our family and friends, we stayed there holding each other for over an hour. They let us go in to see her for the last time and pray. You wouldn’t have even recognized her, this disease is so aggressive. We knew she wasn’t inside anymore, it was just her body. She was in peace. We were in such pain.
During those three days in the ICU, just across the street, Marist College was holding services and candlelight vigils for Caitlin. There was such a strong outpouring of support and love from the staff and students. It was so nice to see and feel the amount of love that Caitlin has spread in her short life. She had touched so many lives. Caitlin’s services were back in Babylon, Long Island. Eilleen had placed about 40-50 personal items of Caitlin’s around the funeral home, dance costumes, kickboxing gloves, lacrosse stick, and the brand new skateboard that she had wanted for her 20th birthday, sadly, the day of her funeral. There were also around 30-40 collages to honor her wonderful life. The line went around the block and the temperature was in the 30’s. It didn’t hinder the support and condolences. It was difficult that her casket was closed but we understood they couldn’t get her to look the same; her parents didn’t want her to be remembered that way.
It’s been ten weeks since her death. The Boyle family is still receiving mail from teachers, friends, classmates, etc… A few weeks ago, one of her friends wrote the family a letter stating how he’ll never forget the long talks they had and what a real friend Cait was, He reflected on the time she called him outside one evening at Marist to watch the most incredible sunset. He quoted Caitlin as saying “Only God can make something that beautiful” Caitlin took the time to look around and admire her environment, and she shared the beauty that she saw.
In a journal that Caitlin had kept, while referring to her life and her level of happiness just a week or two before her illness, one of her last lines written was “All is good now, I am home” We know this is true. Our family jokes that we know she’s an angel, but she probably flies with the fairies since they’re more fun and they probably like to dance more! She may even be showing them some new moves.
In a book that Caitlin wrote in 5th grade, she said “I have a great life”. She did, because she lived her life vibrantly and appreciated what she had. She was so intuitive and mature for her age. That’s why people were attracted to her since she didn’t get caught up in the drama and gossip of life; she took it all lightly. It’s as though, at age 19, she knew already why we were really all here. We hope (an understatement) they discover a vaccine for Strain B Meningitis as soon as tomorrow, so more families don’t have to suffer such a tragic loss from this horrible infection. We also want to advocate for the medical profession to inform parents about this strain and its symptoms. As a child, Caitlin’s first word was “light” . How appropriate for a woman who brought such light into a room and brightness into so many hearts. We will miss you and love you forever Cait, and we know we’ll be together.