Heat-Related Illness Sends 37 Marshall County Band Students to Local Hospitals

File Photo by Shawn Rine Heat radiating from the new artificial turf at Monarch Stadium in Moundsville is being blamed for heat-related illness that sent 37 middle and high school band students to local hospitals Thursday after they had been practicing on the field.

MOUNDSVILLE — When Wintersville police officers were driving through Moundsville and saw emergency response vehicles at Monarch Stadium, they stopped to ask if it was a drill.

Unfortunately, they found out, it was not.

“It was real,” said Tom Hart, Marshall County’s emergency management director, who was one of several officials from a three-county area who responded Thursday after band students fell ill while practicing on a hot day.

Marshall County Schools said 37 students were taken to three hospitals after they became sick from “heat-related” illnesses. The first call came into Marshall County 911 at 11:17 a.m., Hart said. But soon, the center was handling multiple calls of students feeling light-headed and experiencing other, similar symptoms.

“We had limited water available to the kids,” school Superintendent Jeffrey Crook said. “Most of the water they had was what students had brought with them.”

By Thursday evening, all but one of the students had been released from the hospitals. One middle school student was admitted to Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling for observation, according to hospital spokeswoman Karin Janiszewski. That student had been administered IV fluids, she said.

Between 125-130 students from John Marshall High School and Moundsville and Sherrard middle schools had gone to the stadium to practice for the “Middle School Night” performance that was scheduled for halftime of the high school’s home football game tonight against Preston. Although the district said it had done the same thing for the past 33 years, this was the first year students were practicing on new artificial turf that had been laid this summer during stadium renovations.

The surface on those fields — which is made from synthetic materials including rubber and plastic — gets about 20 degrees hotter than the air temperature, district Assistant Superintendent Corey Murphy said. The air temperature at the time was in the 80s, while the humidity was high, too.

“I experienced it myself in college,” said Murphy, who said he also played in band in college. “It’s the same turf they use at (West Virginia University) and (Ohio State University).”

Several students fell ill at the stadium. But some became ill after they went back to school, Hart and school officials said. That meant emergency personnel had to respond to several locations when the calls started coming in.

Murphy said the district picked Thursday for the practice because it was supposed to be cooler than the other three days in what was a short week after the Labor Day holiday. The band needed to practice prior to the event, he said. However, because so many students fell ill on Thursday, Murphy said the district was not sure if the performance was going to go on as planned tonight.

Meanwhile, he said, the district would be meeting today with its faculty and staff to talk about Thursday’s event.

“We need to make sure incidents like this never happen again,” said Murphy, who also said he believes it was a unforeseen event. “Water was there.”

When the students fell ill, nurses from nearby Moundsville Middle School came to help them. Several students were taken into the field house, which is air conditioned. School staff members also brought juice and Gatorade, Murphy said.

As deputies arrived from the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department and officers came from the Moundsville Police Department, they offered students an opportunity to cool down in the back of their cruisers, Hart said.

“It was basically any way we could get them cooled down,” he said.

In the end, first responders from 10 agencies in Marshall, Ohio and Belmont counties provided 16 ambulances to transport 11 John Marshall students; 14 Moundsville students; and 12 students from Sherrard.

Wheeling Hospital spokesman Greg Warren said that facility treated 10 of those patients.

“The 10 students were triaged in our emergency/trauma center, then taken to our Center for Pediatrics where emergency physicians and nurses, along with our pediatrics team are caring for students,” Warren said in a statement released Thursday afternoon before those students ultimately were discharged.

Meanwhile, WVU Reynolds Memorial Hospital in Glen Dale received 12 of the students. Spokeswoman Megan Denny said the students it received had symptoms of heat exhaustion, fatigue and vomiting.

“All of the students were seen by our emergency room physician, treated and were discharged in under two hours,” Denny said.

At 22 students, OVMC received the lion’s share.

“That’s a lot of kids to receive,” Janiszewski said. “I’m proud of our staff to take an intake like that. We are prepared.”

Hart said the county 911 center and emergency responders also were adequately prepared for the response. That was despite the fact that calls into the center quickly escalated from a single call to dozens and that responders had to turn around after transporting patients to pick up others who also had to be taken to the hospital.

“We got a real good response from agencies in three counties,” he said.

Those included emergency squads from Marshall County EMS-Moundsville, Marshall County EMS-Cameron, Glen Dale, McMechen, Limestone, Bethlehem, Stone Church, Wheeling Fire Department, Shadyside, Spirit of ’76 and Bethesda. Also responding were Moundsville City Fire Department and Moundsville Volunteer Fire Department, in addition to the sheriff’s department and Moundsville police.

The Wintersville police officers happened on the scene because they were in town to transport someone from Northern Regional Jail back to Jefferson County. Hart said they stopped to offer their assistance.