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Schools

Meningitis kills school bus driver

Her husband says she was pressured to work while ill. Now letters have been sent to those she had contact with.

By ANNE LINDBERG
Published August 21, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - Fearing she would lose her job if she did not work, Shonna Michelle Lange drove busloads of children to nine Pinellas schools even though she was battling flulike symptoms.

On Tuesday, she lost consciousness and was taken to St. Petersburg General Hospital where she was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. Mrs. Lange, 27, a relief school bus driver, died Friday when her family removed her from life support.

"I could never ask for a better wife," said her husband, Gary, a teacher at Clearwater High School. "She lit up a room."

Lange described his wife as a kind woman who loved him and their 2-year-old son, Trystan.

While Lange praised his wife, he had harsh words for the Pinellas County School District. Transportation department officials, he said, badgered Mrs. Lange into working while ill. And then, they treated her illness too casually, he said.

School district spokesman Ron Stone denied the charges. After school officials discovered she had bacterial meningitis, Stone said they did more than was required to ensure the safety of co-workers and students.

When the district received confirmation of Mrs. Lange's diagnosis Thursday, Stone said, the district sent out 200 letters to co-workers at the St. Petersburg bus compound on 49th Street.

The district also gave letters to the nine schools that had students who had ridden with Mrs. Lange. Those letters were handed to students on the affected buses. It is unclear, Stone said, how many letters were given to children.

The Pinellas County Health Department told the district that the warning was unnecessary because the children were in no danger of contracting meningitis, Stone said. But the district sent the letters anyway because of protocol.

"We did it as a precaution," Stone said. "We tried to cover everybody."

But Lange said he believes the school system is not as concerned as officials try to make it appear.

"They're pressuring people who are sick to come in," he said. "Now they're trying to discredit me as a hostile and nasty person. They're trying to sidestep, sugarcoat the fact that my wife is dead."

Lange said his wife began suffering flulike symptoms a little more than a week before she died. She called in sick on Thursday, Aug. 11, then went to work the next day. The following Monday, she called in sick again because she found it difficult to move her head and neck.

Lange said he could hear her conversation with supervisors when they called. The school district was pushing Mrs. Lange to work, saying, "You've already called out already. . . . This is too early in the school year."

Mrs. Lange withstood the pleas, but later that day, a representative from the transportation department called back and again tried to get her to work, Lange said. When she refused, the district official hung up on her.

Afterward, Mrs. Lange told her husband she was concerned that, if should she call in sick again, she would either be fired or given bad routes. So she went to work Tuesday.

Midway through the day, a co-worker told her she looked terrible.

When she returned home, Mrs. Lange could barely move her arms or head. Her husband said he urged her to go to a doctor or a hospital, but she refused because she "hated hospitals.

"She had her fill of doctors when she was younger," he said.

A victim of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Mrs. Lange had had her spleen removed.

About 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Lange found his wife unconscious and called for help. She died Friday, just about three weeks before their fourth wedding anniversary.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at 727 893-8450 or lindberg@sptimes.com

[Last modified August 21, 2005, 00:50:20]


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