Unknown illness claims life of M-A freshman

Community raises funds to help family

Only eight days after going to the emergency room with a mysterious illness, Aisea Mataele, a 14-year-old freshman at Menlo-Atherton High School, died Dec. 20 at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, after life support was ended.

On Aisea's last day, about 460 people, many from the Las Lomitas Elementary and Menlo-Atherton High School communities, donated more than $57,000 online to help with the young man's medical costs. By 10 a.m. Dec. 21, the funds raised had grown to more than $68,000.

The cause of his sudden illness has not been confirmed by doctors, according to Aisea's mother's cousin and the creator of the crowdfunding campaign, Nona Ybarra. They think it may be from a bacterial cause, she said.

A little over two weeks ago, in early December, Aisea Mataele was a freshman at Menlo-Atherton High School, who was doing great at school, the family says. He was proud of the T-shirt he got for having a GPA of 3.0 or above and being on a sports team.

He had finished his first season on the freshman football team and had just played in his first high school basketball game, said Ms. Ybarra.

Two weekends ago, he began feeling ill, as if he had a cold, she said, and he stayed home from practicing with the varsity football team, she said. He attended a family baptism on Dec. 11 and late on Dec. 12, he collapsed at his home in East Palo Alto and was rushed to the emergency room at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

He was initially diagnosed with meningitis, because there was fluid found in his spine and brain, but doctors later ruled it out as a cause. He spent a week in the hospital receiving treatment but his symptoms saw no improvement, Ms. Ybarra said.

His condition worsened. The fluid in his brain was pressuring his brain stem, and he lost his vision, she said.

He underwent emergency surgery to reduce the fluid in his brain. After the operation, he was unresponsive and was not breathing on his own, Ms. Ybarra said.

Various tests were conducted, and ultimately, life support machines supporting his breathing were turned off, and he did not respond, she said in a text sent around 5 p.m. Dec. 20.

The San Mateo County Public Health Department, Stanford Hospital and the California Department of Public Health are investigating Aisea's illness, according to a letter sent to Menlo-Atherton High School on Dec. 21, from Jeanne Lindquist, M.D., a consulting health officer for the county health system. "At this time, no communicable disease has been identified," the letter said.


On Monday, Dec. 19, Ms. Ybarra set up a GoFundMe campaign online on the family's behalf. "This family needs to use all their energy to fight alongside Aisea. (Let's) all help relieve the financial stress and worry off their minds," she wrote.

After about 24 hours, the $55,000 goal had been surpassed. Donors have come from across the community, Ms. Ybarra said, and include both those who know the Mataele family and others who don't but are sympathetic.

"I do not know Aisea but I have 2 sons at MA and we are all wishing him and his family all our love, prayers and best wishes," wrote one donor on the website.

The Mataele family has lived in eastern Menlo Park and East Palo Alto for generations and many members of the family have grown up attending schools in the Las Lomitas School District through the Tinsley program, she said. (The Tinsley program allows selected students to transfer from schools in the Ravenswood City School District to attend schools in other local districts.)

When Aisea graduated from eighth grade at La Entrada last year, he stood out for his height, Ms. Ybarra recalled.

"You could see him above all the other kids," she said. "He's like 6' 2" and he's tall and gentle and caring. ... He's just a really good kid."

Go to the family's GoFundMe page for updates or to donate.

A service for Aisea will be held Wednesday, Dec. 28 at 10 a.m. at Calvary Assembly of God, located at 130 Piedmont Road in Milpitas.

Editor's Note: Correction: an earlier version of this story said that Aisea went to the hospital on a Sunday night. He went to the emergency room late on Monday, Dec. 12 and was admitted to the hospital on Tuesday, Dec. 13, according to Ms. Ybarra. The story has also been revised to indicate that doctors later ruled out meningitis as a cause following an initial diagnosis. The time of the service was changed to 10 a.m. from 9 a.m. and rescheduled to Wednesday, Dec. 28 from Tuesday, Dec. 27.

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22 people like this
Posted by Kristine Reis
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Dec 20, 2016 at 7:50 pm

As a long time friend of and teacher to many Mataeles, my heart breaks to hear of Aisea's passing. I know the family is grateful for the support of the Las Lomitas and Menlo Atherton communities.

18 people like this
Posted by Maia
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Dec 20, 2016 at 9:40 pm

Although I may not know Aisea too well he was a really cool guy but my thoughts and prayers are with his family it deeply saddens me to learn of his passing. Rest In Peace Aisea our community salutes you.

15 people like this
Posted by Tess Escoto
a resident of another community
on Dec 21, 2016 at 8:23 am

I met this family through Pastor Silvia Clayton and appreciated their support at the passing of my relative several years ago. My heart goes out to them and prayers as well.

15 people like this
Posted by Damarius Louie
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Dec 21, 2016 at 11:12 pm

I will always remember you by the jokes you get me on and playing my first year of football with you. I wish I could say my goodbyes before you past I felt heartbroken when I heard. You were my first friend at MA and you weren't just a friend to me you were like a brother restate in peace Aisea

Like this comment
Posted by Andrea
a resident of another community
on Jun 26, 2017 at 5:36 pm

Did anyone look up Reyes Syndrome? Same thing happened Dec 24th 2015 to my baby girl she was also 14 years old.. And also misdiagnosed but with Gastritis. It was Reyes Syndrome later confirmed by a pediatrician specialist.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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