Last Wednesday, 13-year-old Cameron Espinosa huddled up with his teammates at halftime. Suddenly, said a school district official, he began screaming "Ants! Ants!" His coach told him to wash off the bites with a water bottle, and Espinosa eventually collapsed and was taken to the hospital. On Monday, he died.
As Espinosa, a student at Haas Middle School in Corpus Christi, Texas, lay in a medically induced coma, his classmates gathered for vigils and pinned ribbons with his number to their clothes. But after his death was announced to the community Monday morning, questions started being asked about the school district's handling of the accident, and whether Espinosa should still be alive.
The school district said the field was checked for ant mounds before the game, and found none. But Hector Salinas, a member of the school board, said he inspected the field after Espinosa was bitten and found more than 20 anthills.
"If in fact the coaches there knew that there was a problem with ants before.. Then you know what? It should have been taken care of," said Salinas.
"It really bothers me because here we got a young kid that is fighting for his life and... I don't know... Could this been prevented?"
Espinosa's mother, who said her son wanted to be a doctor, questions why the school district didn't have an EpiPen on hand—an injection of epinephrine could have prevented Espinosa from going into anaphylactic shock. Some school districts recommend that they be kept on hand for all sporting events. Currently, the Corpus Christi district only has available for students with diagnosed allergies, and Espinosa did not know he was allergic to ant bites.
Espinosa's mother also asked why trained medical personnel weren't present. Instead, when Espinosa was bitten,
"The coach said 'get a water bottle and spray yourself off.' So that's what he was doing. But then, as coach kept talking and trying to lead the team, that's when he started with the grimacing and like yelling out in pain. It was obvious he was in pain," says Principal Lynda Ann De Leon.
Espinosa's family has hired a lawyer who says the district's reaction and treatment is "now going under the microscope." The district says it is planning to re-examine its own policies, including how it checks fields for ants, whether it should have EMS personnel on hand for football games, and if officials should always have an EpiPen handy.
Espinosa's funeral service will be held tomorrow. Haas says the school is planning to retire his jersey.
Salinas, the school board member, offered a general apology.
"Parents, they rely on us and the school to take care of the kids and make sure that they're safe," Salinas said, "And somehow, you know what? We didn't do our job."