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Aaron C. Carpenter, 3, died early Tuesday morning from bacterial meningitis.

Aaron C. Carpenter died early Tuesday morning. He was 3.

Bacterial meningitis stole his life in less than 13 hours.

Andrea Carpenter said Aaron was fine Monday morning but was running a fever that afternoon. She thought he might have had the flu because his grandmother suffered through that last week.

Aaron slept off and on throughout the day, waking, eating and drinking, and falling back to sleep.

"I didn't think much of it," Carpenter said.

But, Monday evening, Aaron called for his mother. When she went to check on him, he had red spots on his body.

"I thought, 'Great. It's the chicken pox,'" Carpenter said.

Fifteen minutes later, the red spots had spread, and red blotches were breaking out on the boy. His eyes were dull, his legs would not hold him and he said he was "really
tired," Carpenter said. She dressed him and rushed him to Memorial Hospital.

On the trip from Saginaw, which is east of Mount Wolf, Aaron was talking and worried about the doctor giving him "the sharp thing." Carpenter said she reached back over the seat and held his hand.

As they neared the hospital, his hand slipped away, and he began to gasp for air.

Aaron was breathing but unresponsive when he was rushed into the emergency room. His heart stopped and, despite all efforts, would not resume beating. He was pronounced dead at 1:08 a.m.

"It hit him so hard," Carpenter said of the bacteria. "I was told that, even if we had gotten to the hospital sooner, it wouldn't have changed the outcome."

Carpenter could calmly explain the circumstances leading up to her son's death. But her voice quavered when she recalled Aaron as "a fun-loving and very, very happy little boy."

"He loved to play with his fire trucks and his dump trucks," she said. "And he loved to tackle our dog. He was the most sweetest and caring little boy."

York County Deputy Coroner Claude Stabley said the Pennsylvania Department of Health was notified "early on" of Aaron's cause of death.

The YWCA's Manchester Learning Center, where Aaron attended day care, referred all questions to the local main office of the YWCA, which referred all questions to the state health department. Spokeswoman Stacey Kriedeman said the department is working to identify anyone who may have had "close, personal, prolonged" contact with Aaron.

Stabley said bacterial meningitis is a contagious infection spread through close contact. He said he did not know how Aaron contracted it.

He said that up to 25 percent of the population may carry the bacteria in a benign form. He said that, in cases such as Aaron's, after picking up the bacteria, it finds "a portal into the central nervous system."

"It can be very, very quick and turn into a lethal infection," he said. "He was not sick for a long time."

He said the infection leads to septic shock, respiratory arrest and finally cardiovascular collapse.

"It can be very, very fast," he said. "Here, within 12 hours of the symptoms showing, it resulted in respiratory arrest."

Services for Aaron are being handled by Diehl Funeral Home and Cremation Center of Mount Wolf and will be private.

BACTERIAL MENINGITIS

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is working to identify anyone who may have had "close, personal, prolonged" contact with a 3-year-old boy who died Tuesday of bacterial meningitis, spokesperson Stacey Kriedeman said.

Kriedeman said the goal is to ensure that anyone at risk receives the appropriate antibiotic treatment.

"Bacterial meningitis is treatable but it is important to identify it early and start on antibiotics," Kriedeman said.

She said the Department of Health urges any parents with concerns to call their family physician or 1-877-PA-HEALTH. Information also is available at www.dsf.health.state.pa.us.