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An ordinary life by Ava Benson
By Ava N. BensonPhotography by Amy Wiseman

Winter 2002      

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An Ordinary Life

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What’s so special about leading a normal college life?

Ask Lydia M. Evans, a sophomore from Fort Worth.

Not many students would make trying to live a normal life a priority, but Evans is moving a step closer to normalcy every day and loving it.

Now, as she did at the beginning of the Fall 2001 semester, she has a boyfriend, a roommate, a schedule of classes and a social life.

The difference this year is that she has come back from a 4 percent chance of survival and her steps are on $40,000 artificial legs.

Critical condition

In March, Evans was still in the hospital, learning how to return to an active life.

On Sept. 23, 2001, Evans was diagnosed with the most infectious strain of bacterial meningitis (meningococcal). She was in critical condition — in a coma for two weeks and awake but paralyzed from the neck down for many more.

On Sept. 22, she started feeling sick at a party and went home. There, she called her mother, Elizabeth de Evans, and asked for soup.

Sometime after 1 a.m., when purple spots began breaking out on her body, Evans went to Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where she tested positive for meningitis. She fell into a coma the next day.

Bacterial meningitis strikes swiftly and unexpectedly. The germ causes a blood-poisoning reaction that leads to organ failure and allows gangrene to develop. The disease begins with flu-like symptoms, but it can be fatal within 24 hours.

During her coma, Evans’ lungs collapsed, her liver failed and her body became covered with open wounds where tissue had died from the blood poisoning.

“There were numerous times the doctors and nurses would take us into Lydia’s room and tell us to say goodbye,” says Evans’ roommate, Sundey Stewart, a junior from The Colony.

Doctors performed I.Q. tests on Evans after she woke up to make sure she had not suffered brain damage, a common effect of bacterial meningitis. The results showed she suffered no mental impairment.

  Lisa Hines visited with Evans and helped her do the things she couldn’t.

Because so much tissue had died, doctors were forced to amputate Evans’ legs below the knees, both of her thumbs and portions of seven of her fingers. Subsequently, the medical teams reconstructed her thumbs using muscle and arteries from other parts of her body.

She was continuously hospitalized for both medical treatment and rehabilitation until the end of March.

“People don’t really notice [my legs] anymore if I’ve got pants on because I’m walking so well,” Evans says.

So far, she has undergone 18 surgeries and has at least one major reconstructive surgery scheduled for next summer. After that, her doctors cannot estimate how many cosmetic surgeries she may need.

Back to school

Evans returned to her UNT classes in the fall. She is once again active in her sorority, Pi Beta Phi, and has resumed her involvement in other campus activities.

Evans plans to stick to her original goal and hopes to graduate from UNT with a degree in international studies in May 2004.

Evans returned to UNT this fall.

She insists that her illness did not change her dramatically.

“If anything, I guess I’m more forgiving now because I realized how quickly it can all be taken away,” she says. “I think my friends are more affected by this than I was. I didn’t see how sick I was. I never thought I was going to die. When I woke up, it was like, ‘What’s the big deal?’”

She says she wants to return as much as she can to the way she lived before contracting meningitis. And she’d prefer not to be credited for her remarkable turnaround in the face of death.

“It really bothers me when people say I’m an inspiration,” Evans says. “Living or surviving something doesn’t make me great. … I don’t want to be somebody’s hero. I’m the same person I was before, and I don’t want to let anybody down."


Health officials never determined where Lydia Evans contracted meningitis. However, when the disease was identified, warnings were circulated throughout the university community for people who may have had contact with her when she was contagious to go to the Health Clinic for a free, one-time antibiotic treatment. Thousands of students responded. Many other students took advantage of two special vaccination sessions on campus during the Fall 2001 semester. There were no other cases.

The UNT Student Health and Wellness Center offers meningitis vaccinations year round and also holds special vaccination clinics in the fall semester for students, faculty, staff and community members. The university mails information about meningitis vaccinations to the parents of students 25 and younger after the 12th class day each fall. New UNT students also receive information about meningitis during registration.

Each year in the United States, there are about 3,000 meningococcal disease cases, including 300 deaths. Of these cases, about 125 to 175 occur among college students, including 15 to 20 deaths.

About the writer and photographer: Students Ava N. Benson, senior, and Amy Wiseman, junior, are journalism majors.

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