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 and East Palo Alto resident, after life support was ended.
On Aisea's last day, about 460 people, many from the Las Lomitas Elementary and Menlo-Atherton communities, donated more than $57,000 online to help with the young man's medical costs. By 10 a.m. Dec. 21, the amount 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, 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, Ybarra said.
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, 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, 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. on 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 on Dec. 21 from Jeanne Lindquist, 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, 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 campaign's $55,000 goal had been surpassed. Donors have come from across the community, 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 Voluntary Transfer Program, or Tinsley program, she said. (The program allows students to apply to to transfer from 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, 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.