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Meningitis blamed for golfers death

Lewis Chitengwa, the golfer who passed away Saturday after withdrawing from the Canadian Tour's Edmonton Open with flu-like symptoms, apparently died from meningitis.

The 26-year-old native of Zimbabwe complained of a fever and was taken to Misericordia Hospital. He was told he had the flu and sent home, but several hours later was taken to University of Alberta Hospital, where he slipped into unconsciousness and died within an hour of being admitted.

Chitengwa wasn't immediately diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis because he didn't display the classic symptom of the illness, a stiff neck.

The meningococcus bacteria may not have spread to and inflamed the linings of his spinal canal or brain cavity, which would have caused his neck to feel stiff, said Dr. Gerry Predy, the medical officer of health for the Capital Health Region.

Predy said the meningitis bacteria was spreading throughout Chitengwa's bloodstream, a condition known as meningococcemia.

"Meningococcemia is a generalized infection that, once it gets in the bloodstream, goes through your whole body, overwhelms all your body systems and you go into shock," explained Predy. "Often, it's such an overwhelming and such a fast-progressing infection that no matter how soon you diagnose it, it's often very serious and often fatal because it's so potentially progressive."

Several days of tests will be needed to determine if the bacteria that infected Chitengwa is the same strain that last year killed three young Edmonton residents, infected over 30 others and prompted thousands of young people in the area to be inoculated.

A three-time Zimbabwe Amateur champion, Chitengwa became the first black golfer to win the South Africa Amateur when he captured the event in 1993. He attended the University of Virginia on an athletic scholarship and played on the 2000 Tour, finishing 100th on the money list with $39,103 in 27 starts last year.

He also competed in the 1996 Greater Vancouver Open and the 1999 St. Jude Classic on the PGA Tour.

Chitengwa had two top-10 finishes this year on the Canadian Tour.

"We are very, very much devastated," said Chitengwa's father, Lewis Muridzo, the golf pro at Wingate Park Club in Harare, Zimbabwe. "His main aim was to be No. 1 in the world. The whole country, the whole continent will be devastated about this thing."


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