A West Jessamine High School student battling a drug-resistant staph infection died Tuesday morning at the University of Kentucky Hospital.
Ryan Robinson, a junior, had been placed on life support after contracting methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, said Sam Pile, who coached the boy on the Jessamine Youth Soccer Association's Storm Soccer Club, a traveling team.
Ryan's aunt, Diane Lafferty of Johnson County, said her nephew died at 10:10 a.m. Tuesday, shortly after machines keeping him alive were turned off.
"Ryan was a perfect gentleman," said Lafferty, who is the sister of Ryan's mother, Patricia Brown. "He was one that was willing to do anything and everything for anyone that he could. He was a strong foundation for the whole family."
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Tommy Cobb, a board member for Jessamine Youth Soccer Association, said "nobody knows for sure how" Ryan contracted the infection.
"To know that he was at soccer practice on Thursday, and how viciously his body was attacked by this bacteria, it amazes me," Cobb said. "This guy was a well-conditioned athlete. It brings to light that this could happen to anybody. Anybody. And we need to be more cognitive of using hand sanitizer and washing hands and not sharing water bottles."
MRSA is becoming more common among student athletes who are in close contact with one another. Staph is not uncommon among athletes, since bacteria that normally live on the skin and in the nose can enter through turf burns, cuts and scrapes or even a place where equipment rubs against the skin.
But Ryan had not had any injury, Pile said. He said experts will talk to the team about how to avoid and limit exposure to MRSA.
"We've all racked our brains. None of us can think of any way he would have gotten it," Pile said.
"It's cold out there at practice. These boys are all wearing track suits all the way up to their neck," Pile said. "It's not like they're sweating in the summertime and bumping into each other. ... All these guys have been wearing a couple layers of clothes. We've been training in 25, 30, 35 degree weather."
In September, a George Rogers Clark High School freshman and soccer player, Mckenna Hatchett, died after contracting staph. Within the same week, two cases of MRSA were reported at East Jessamine High School and East Jessamine Middle School.
Trained therapists will be available at West Jessamine High School Wednesday — as they were on Monday and Tuesday — to counsel students, said Jessamine Schools Superintendent Lu Young.
"How incredibly sad we all are to have lost a student," Young said. "My thoughts and prayers are with his family as well as his friends and teachers. It's unbearably sad to think about losing such a young person and student."
Young had learned early Monday that there was a West Jessamine High student with a suspected case of MRSA, and she said extra crews were called in to thoroughly clean the school, as well as the Jessamine Career and Technology Center, where Ryan also attended. The career and technology center is also used by East Jessamine High School students.
A letter was sent home to East Jessamine students and their families Tuesday.
"We have no evidence that the student contracted MRSA at school," the letter stated. "According to information that we have received from the student's mother, the treating physicians stated that due to the specific circumstances involved, they do not believe that other students are in danger of contracting MRSA."
The letter also says the school system is working with the Jessamine County Health Department "to review precautionary procedures" and had asked teachers to wipe down all classroom surfaces with "an EPA-approved disinfectant solution as an extra measure to prevent the spread of flu and other infectious diseases."
Pile said Ryan, who has been on the traveling soccer team since 2003, came to practice Thursday night and was in great form.
But he said Ryan's mother, Patricia Brown, told him that Ryan became ill later that night. She took him to the doctor Friday and was told he had the flu, Pile said.
But by Saturday morning, Ryan was worse, and she took him to the emergency room. He was transferred to UK, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and, later, MRSA, Pile said.
Brittany Wylie, a junior at West Jessamine High School, said she had known Ryan since middle school.
"He's the reason I'm passing chemistry right now," she said, adding that Ryan sat behind her in class and often helped her.
"He was a really good guy," she said. "I'm really going to miss him."
Brittany set up a group called "Please Pray for Ryan Robinson" on Facebook. More than 1,500 people had joined and more than 100 messages had been left by friends and acquaintances by Tuesday evening.
On a contemplative note, Pile remembered Ryan "as very intense. He was probably the most intense competitor I've ever coached in my 15-year career as a high school and club soccer coach. Extremely competitive, extremely fiery. He held himself and his teammates to real high standards. He'd let you know if he didn't think you were playing up to your potential or to your standards and the standards he had for you.
"I just thank God for allowing me to be a person who was involved in his life, and be a person who was able to coach him and spend time with him and maybe have some kind of influence on him," Pile said.
"He was just a fun kid to be around," Cobb added. "A caring kid and a competitive kid. ... Off the field, he was just a kid that everybody wanted to be with."
Cobb remembers on a trip to Ohio, the Storm team stopped to eat at a pizza restaurant. Ryan put in some gospel and bluegrass CDs from the music collection Cobb carried in his SUV.
"He was sitting on the bumper and he would sing the songs and the kids would laugh; the harder they laughed, the harder he would perform," Cobb said. "He was the type of kid who wanted to give joy."
Funeral arrangements were incomplete Tuesday at Clark Legacy Center in Brannon Crossing.