ST. HELENS, OR (KPTV) – Friends and family members are mourning after a 16-year-old St. Helens High School student died Monday.
Doctors suspect Paul Lewis died from bacterial meningitis. Lewis was a sophomore at the high school and was on the school’s wrestling team.
The Columbia County Health Department is awaiting test results to confirm Lewis’ cause of death and continues to investigate, trying to figure out if anyone else could have been exposed.
The community, including students at the high school, say they are deeply saddened by Lewis' death.
Barbara Eaton, a close family friend, invited FOX 12 Wednesday to come with her to pick out a plant she hopes will help the Lewis family heal.
"At first, I didn't want to believe it," Eaton said. "I had to replay the message like three times ... I can't even image what they're going through."
Eaton says sharing a gift with the family is the least she can do. At the garden center Wednesday, she purchased a Yuletide Camellia, which only blooms around this time of year.
"She was telling us about it and it gave us goosebumps, so we know this is the one," Eaton said, referencing the plant.
Eaton says she hopes that every time the plant blooms, the flower blossoms bring peace to the family.
"Parents should not have to bury a child ... and for something tragic like this," Eaton said. "I feel for them. I'm speechless. I don't even know what to say."
Eaton says Paul battled and beat cancer at a very young age, but through it all, he was happy and smiling and making people laugh.
Bacterial meningitis is spread through direct contact with mucus from a sick person’s nose or throat, but it’s not spread by being in the same room as a sick person. Symptoms can include fever, stiff neck, bad headaches, skin rash, weakness, or vomiting, according to officials.
The health department says it takes two to 10 days for symptoms to show after someone is exposed. They say if anyone thinks they’ve been exposed, they should see a doctor, as the disease can usually be treated with antibiotics.
St. Helens High School Tuesday had mental health professionals on campus to help students. The school said is was also giving students space to process their emotional needs. It said their community will be grieving together and will do whatever they can to support each other and Lewis’ family.
The health department expects to receive test results later this week.
A GoFundMe page has been created to help the Lewis family with funeral costs.
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