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Caitlin Ann Boyle Memorial Bike Ride raises awareness about meningitis

A photo of Caitlin Ann Boyle greets participants

A photo of Caitlin Ann Boyle greets participants at Belmont Park for the Caitlin Ann Boyle Memorial Bike Ride. The former Marist College student died from meningitis seven years ago. The Boyle family holds the bike ride to raise funds for the National Meningitis Association. (Sept. 30, 2012) Credit: Andrew Kozak

Seven years ago, Michael LaForgia spent the days before Christmas enjoying time with his family and preparing for the holidays.

That was until he started feeling flu-like symptoms. Over the next two days, he became progressively worse and went into septic shock.

LaForgia was rushed to a hospital where he slipped into a coma for 10 days. While in the coma, doctors told his family that he contracted bacterial meningitis and that his survival was unlikely.

His parents prepared for the worst as they got ready to head back up to Maine to get their suits for his funeral.

LaForgia came out of the coma.

But over the course of the next few months, he underwent several procedures to replace the lost muscle in his legs but to no resolve. So in early 2006, he opted to have his right leg amputated.

Now the 47-year-old Smithtown man wears a prosthetic leg and lives a normal life filled with biking, exercise and most importantly, raising awareness about meningitis with his work for the National Meningitis Association.

“You feel a responsibility as a survivor to give back,” LaForgia said.

So on Sunday, he was among the dozens who participated in the Caitlin Ann Boyle Memorial Bike Ride in Belmont Park, an event that honors the Marist College student who died from meningitis seven years ago.

LaForgia met Caitlin’s mother, Eilleen Boyle, through the NMA and has since participated in three of the last seven bike rides honoring her daughter.

“This event has absolutely saved a life,” said LaForgia. “The focus is to spread the awareness of the vaccine, but the ride also has helped Eilleen deal with her feelings.”

All proceeds from the event are split between a scholarship in Caitlin’s memory at Marist College and the National Meningitis Association.

“We look forward to doing this once each year,” said her father John Boyle, 56, of Babylon. “She’s never out of our mind, even for a day. This is the one time a year that we do something that keeps her alive.”

Posters listing symptoms of meningitis hung next to pictures of Caitlin at tents set up at the park’s entrance. Pamphlets were handed out to participants with information on how to spot and prevent meningitis.

Eilleen Boyle, 57, who is a nurse, has found strength and energy in running this function each year.

“This bike ride gives us a purpose,” she said. “It has given us a direction for our energy. It helps with the great pain that comes back to us.”

The Boyle family has found support from their family, residents of Long Island and local stores. Businesses donated raffle gifts like wine, movie tickets and fishing poles to help raise money.

“It’s hard to go through life when you lose a child,” said Mary Ellen Saasto, 62, of Woodbury, one of Eilleen Boyle’s sisters. “This bike ride has helped her come back to life.”

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