A Halifax family is searching for answers after their 19-year-old son died from meningitis B, the most common and most deadly strain of meningitis.
On June 1, Kai Matthews passed away surrounded by the love and support of his family.
Doctors had to use a machine to help him breathe, and had to induce him into a coma.
“He was in agony,” said Norrie Matthews, Kai’s father.
When he was asked the pain he was experiencing from one to 10, Kai said nine.”
For the family, it was the worst night of their life as they waited at the ICU to see whether the antibiotics could stop the infection caused by meningitis B.
When a person is infected with meningitis B, it is a race against time to begin treatment and start antibiotics. The infection can spread quickly through the bloodstream and attack the brain. One in 10 cases can be fatal, often within 24 to 48 hours after the onset of symptoms.
“(I’m looking at him) through a window…It was quite shocking, quite surreal…I didn’t quite believe it was happening. Still is surreal to this day that this is all happening,” said Matthews.
In the morning, doctors told the family that Kai’s brain-swelling had progressed further during the night and that unfortunately, Kai was brain dead.
“This was a horrible word to hear as a parent. Then the next conversation was about the fact that there’s nothing they can do for him and unfortunately, we have to start talking about taking him off life support,” said Matthews.
“It’s impossible to comprehend that your son is — that Friday before he got sick — he was out golfing with a couple of friends, healthy, happy, vibrant, had everything in front of him. And two days later, he’s in the ICU and we’re planning to take life support off of him.”
Delay in treatment, province promises 2 reviews
Matthews said he has no idea how Kai contracted the infection, and that he wasn’t diagnosed with the infection until his condition got worse.
Kai first developed fevers, body aches and chills on May 30. He went to the hospital in Halifax and got tested for COVID-19.
He was then taken to the hospital a second time and Kai’s parents still couldn’t get in with him due to COVID-19 protocols.
“This time I pleaded when we were going through the COVID screening that I go in with him, because he was in much more pain, much more confusion, much more anxiety. He was not able to advocate for himself. They wouldn’t let me,” said Matthews.
Kai’s dad waited in the parking lot for two hours with no word, and he got a call from the nursing station that his son was being discharged and that the doctor would be on the phone shortly to speak with him.
But when Kai came out stumbling and in pain, and as Matthew carried him over to the car, he saw that Kai had purple rashes that were all over his chest, which were not seen by the doctors or anyone at the ER at this point.
“I rushed back into the ER station and pleaded with the nurse to come back out and look at his rash. Finally, she decided to come. She came out to the car, looked at the rashes, and right away she brought Kai back into the ER” said Matthews.
The doctor who assessed Kai told his father that Kai had a very serious infection and that the purple rash he was developing was indicative of a meningitis infection.
That’s when Kai started getting a broad spectrum of antibiotics.
In response to Global News, the Nova Scotia Health Authority said they are “reviewing the care Kai received and making sure any learnings are applied to future patient care.”
Health Minister Zach Churchill says a second review — of the company contracted to provide ambulance services in the province — is underway in light of Kai’s death.
“It’s not hard to imagine what the family is going through right now, particularly where they worked hard to get him the care he obviously required.” Churchill said.
“Obviously the biggest concern here and the question now is, could something different have happened? And that’s the purpose of these reviews, is to to help answer that very, very important question.”
When the family first heard of the possibility of Kai being infected with meningitis, they were confused because Kai had received his vaccines through the public vaccination program as a child.
“I thought, ‘Well, he got all the vaccines’ but all they said is that there are some vaccines that are not covered under the public vaccine program, so that was a shock to us,” said Matthews.
After the passing of Kai, the family turned their grief into action and launched a platform called BforKai.org to help educate people about meningitis B and increase vaccination rates.
According to BforKai, there is a severe lack of information and transparency regarding meningitis B. The vaccine was not available until 2014, and the vast majority of those at risk have not been immunized against this lethal disease.
“If it only takes one person to make a difference, let Kai’s death be the reason for change,” wrote the family on the website.
Kai was a student who had just finished his first year at Acadia University.
“He loved his family and friends. We called him an introverted extrovert because he was a gentle soul, but much of an extrovert where he (spent time) with all his friends and loved them equally,’ said Kari Matthews, Kai’s mother.
Kai was also talented in sports and went to the Canada Games for his snowboarding. He loved soccer as well.
“He meant so much to so many people that we weren’t even aware of. But to hear that it just warms our hearts that much more,” she said.
Kai’s family has partnered with Acadia University to assist in bringing awareness about meningitis B to students and support an increase in vaccinations this fall.
People can donate to the cause here.