A top-ranked Hauppauge high school wrestler is in the fight of his life after contracting MRSA - a potentially deadly bacteria that can be transferred by blood-to-blood contact - and another bacterial infection.
Nick Mauriello, 16, of Hauppauge, was in critical condition Monday at Stony Brook University Medical Center after being diagnosed last week with both MRSA and Lemierre's syndrome, a second, rarer bacterial infection that doctors said was an offshoot of the first. MRSA is commonly transmitted through contact sports such as wrestling, football and rugby.
Mauriello, who was ranked fifth in Suffolk County at 125 pounds on Jan. 23, began showing symptoms including neck pains, breathing problems and limited mobility after competing in 18 matches over eight days.
He remains on a ventilator after contracting pneumonia as a result of the Lemierre's.
"He's got the tube in his mouth," said the wrestler's father, Nick Mauriello Sr. "He's coming through a little bit and he asked me what's going on."
Hauppauge school district Superintendent Patricia Sullivan-Kriss sent a letter to parents Thursday warning that there was a confirmed case of MRSA in the high school. "The district is acting upon protocols developed to help guard against the spread of this bacterial infection," the letter said.
Suffolk County athletics executive director Ed Cinelli said the situation was "unfortunate," adding, "Once we know more about this maybe we'll have to take some additional action."
Hauppauge wrestling coach Chris Messina said some programs are fastidious about hygiene, but going on the road can sometimes put athletes' health at risk. During the more than weeklong stretch of matches, Mauriello wrestled at Hauppauge, Wantagh and Kings Park. Before that, he competed at a nine-match tournament at Sullivan Community College in upstate Loch Sheldrake.
"Some of us are doing our job and some of us are not," Messina said. "At some meets there's one shower with no hot water. Sometimes there are no showers. Enough's enough."
In the letter sent to parents, the Hauppauge district encouraged parents to "remind [their] children about the importance of good hygienic habits," including washing hands frequently, avoiding contact with wounds or bandages, keeping cuts clean, and avoiding sharing personal items such as razors, clothes and athletic equipment. The school district said that it has sanitized the locker room and other instructional areas.
"It's a freak thing," Nick Mauriello Sr. said. "Nobody is to blame for it. . . . I don't want to give a black eye to a sport that's been so good to me and my family."
Though doctors have yet to pinpoint the cause of the infections, "he's a wrestler, he had [abrasions] on his knuckles and everywhere else," said Rahul Panesar, a pediatric critical care physician who is treating Mauriello. Panesar said that although MRSA is generally caused by a different type of bacteria than Lemierre's, in this case, the two are correlated.
Doctors believe that Mauriello first contracted MRSA and the infection then formed on his skin, traveled to the blood stream and caused a second infection, which manifested itself as a septic clot in his jugular - the Lemierre's.
Doctors have yet to determine the original location of the infections, Panesar said.
Mauriello first complained of neck pain after competing at the Wantagh Duals on Jan. 22, Messina said.
"His knuckles were bloody," Messina said. "We kept wiping it and taping it up. We were told that's how it got infected. . . . We were assured it was caused by blood-to-blood contact and that's the only way it can get infected."
On Jan. 30, Mauriello was admitted to the St. Catherine of Siena Hospital emergency room and was quickly transferred to the intensive care unit at Stony Brook Medical Center.
Panesar said that doctors have been treating him with a cocktail of antibiotics. "Over the weekend, we had the first culture that was actually negative," Panesar said. "That gives us a little bit of cautious optimism."
Mauriello Sr. said his son has to register negative cultures every day for five days for the infection to be cleared. He was on Day Two Monday. "Today was the first ray of good news," he said. "Keep your fingers crossed."
The wrestling team is rallying around one of its most successful members. Mauriello, who was 35-2 this season, has gotten support from his brother, Chris, who wrestles at 96 pounds, and other teammates who text, call, and have dropped off medals and trophies after Hauppauge won its League V championship last week.
"It's crushed our team," Messina said. "He was on fire this year. . . . To see him flat on his back in bed blows my mind. We pray for Nick every day."