Upstate high school student diagnosed with bacterial meningitis passes away

South Carolina News

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) said they are investigating a case of a bacterial brain infection related to the death of a student at Dorman High School.

17-year-old Keegan Johnson passed away on Wednesday after being diagnosed with bacterial meningitis on Monday.

“Fun kid. You couldn’t help but love him,” Mark Hodge said. “Very social, very energetic, very active. Sometimes aggravating, but a very pure-hearted, caring young man.”

That’s how Chapman High School’s head football coach Mark Hodge described his former player Keegan Johnson.

Johnson played football at Chapman High for two years before transferring to Dorman High.

“A lot of fun memories. You just hate the fact that, at 17, they’ve become memories,” Hodge said.

Hodge remembers Johnson as a competitive, outgoing kid who played receiver and defensive back.

“When they play for you and you teach them, and the relationships are built throughout the building, they become your kids,” he said. “And when your kids have a need, you want to be there for them.”

That’s why Hodge went straight to the hospital when he learned Johnson was in serious condition after being diagnosed with bacterial meningitis on Monday. Sadly, Johnson passed away at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday.

“God’s plan and His time,” Hodge said. “You never know when your time is. When God acts, He acts. Fortunately, in this situation, He acted and I’m comfortable that I know where he is.”

Hodge told 7 News there were extra grief counselors at Chapman High on Wednesday as students and teachers told their stories about Johnson.

“He left his mark wherever he went. People cared about him wherever he went and he cared about people wherever he went,” he said. “You hope people use this moment to share memories and reflect and understand that nothing is promised.”

But Hodge said he’s proud of the former athlete for the ultimate play of his life: donating his organs and potentially saving the lives of nine other people.

“As painful as it is for the family and for the friends and those connected with him right now, some other family is going to get some joyous news out of this,” he said. “We laughed and said that whoever gets his organs, when they wake up, somebody’s going to say ‘What got into you?’ Because Keegan was full of energy, emotion, and life.”

Doctors told Johnson’s family what happened to him was very rare.

7 News reached out to Johnson’s school district who has been in touch with DHEC, and DHEC told them no control measures, like preventative medicine, are recommended for students or staff. The only thing that is recommended is frequent hand-washing.

DHEC officials issued the following letter to Superintendent Dr. Darryl Owings in reference to their investigation:

“The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is investigating a case of a bacterial brain infection associated with a person at Dorman High School.

Preventive medication for people who were near someone sick with the type of bacteria identified is not routinely recommended. For this reason, no control measures — including exclusions from school or medication — are recommended for students or staff.

While there are no specific exclusions or preventive medication recommended in this situation, general precautions, such as hand washing and covering a cough, are always good preventive measures to follow. Staff, parents, and students can talk with their healthcare provider if they have any health concerns or if they show signs of illness such as fever, severe headache, and weakness.

If you have any questions, please contact the Upstate Region Public Health Epidemiology Office at 864-372-3133.”


Spartanburg County School District Six officials said on their Facebook page that they are “heartbroken by this tragedy.”

School officials said the district has been in contact with DHEC and have reached out to DHEC again out of an abundance of caution:

Chapman High School officials took to Facebook Wednesday afternoon to address Johnson’s passing:

DHEC released the following statement to 7 News:

Meningitis is an inflammation (swelling) of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord that is most often caused by a bacteria or virus. 
Meningitis is not a reportable condition in South Carolina, though several types of bacteria and viruses that cause infections, including meningitis, are reportable. An example is the bacteria, Neisseria meningitidis, that can cause meningitis but also other types of infections like blood stream infections.
DHEC is not involved in any investigations requiring public health action.
For more information on meningitis, please visit CDC’s Bacterial Meningitis web page.

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