Family of U-Md. student who died of adenovirus takes step toward suing school

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The family of an 18-year-old University of Maryland freshman who died of adenovirus in the fall has filed a notice of claim against the college, setting the stage for a possible lawsuit.

Ian Paregol said the death of his daughter, Olivia Shea Paregol, could have been prevented had the university disclosed that the virus was spreading through the College Park campus.

He notified the University of Maryland on Monday of the wrongful-death claim following a report by The Washington Post that revealed officials waited 18 days to tell students about the presence of adenovirus. More than 40 students would become sick, including 15 who were treated at hospitals. The university first acknowledged the virus on Nov. 19, the day after Olivia Paregol died.

Ian Paregol said the family hopes to have discussions with college officials and will decide in coming weeks whether to file a lawsuit against the state’s flagship institution. In the meantime, Paregol is calling for an independent investigation of the university and asking for the resignation or termination of President Wallace D. Loh.

“The university is responsible for Olivia’s death and the person ultimately responsible for the actions or inactions of the university’s staff is the president,” Ian Paregol said. “He shouldn’t have been allowed to continue in the first place.”

In the fall, Loh had agreed to retire at the end of this academic year following the death of 19-year-old football player Jordan McNair. Athletic trainers waited more than an hour to call 911 after McNair showed signs of exhaustion. His death in June exposed deep problems within the athletic department, and a leadership crisis erupted.

The University System of Maryland Board of Regents later decided to have Loh remain through 2020 while the governing board searches for a successor. Paul Stackpole, a board spokesman, said the group “is not considering the employment status” of Loh.

“Student health and safety is the first order of leadership and the highest priority at all of our campuses,” Stackpole said. The chancellor of the university system “has asked all USM presidents to review their policies, processes, and communications related to incidents of infectious diseases and environmental hazards to ensure best practices in responding to these matters.”

A University of Maryland spokeswoman declined to answer questions. After The Post published its report May 16, Loh released a statement saying, “I have offered condolences on behalf of the University to Olivia’s parents and continue to think of her family.”

Loh has stood by the college’s response to the adenovirus outbreak, saying, “Our approach to reporting, testing, cleaning and communicating about the virus was coordinated with health officials, and exceeded” guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Adenovirus is not governed by mandatory state or federal reporting requirements. That means doctors or hospitals are not required to alert health officials or the public when the virus is discovered. Ultimately, the University of Maryland had the discretion of when and how to share that information.

Adenovirus can produce symptoms similar to a cold or flu. But certain pernicious strains can sicken healthy individuals and be dangerous to people with weakened immune systems — people like Olivia Paregol, who was on medication for Crohn’s disease, an incurable digestive tract condition.

She had battled respiratory problems all fall semester after living in Elkton Hall, a mold-infested dorm from which students had to be temporarily evacuated. Mold does not cause adenovirus, but the director of the university health center, in emails to administrators, acknowledged that “mold can cause respiratory irritation that may increase susceptibility of any viral infection.”

Olivia Paregol showed up at the university health center complaining of a fever and sore throat Nov. 2, a day after David McBride, the director of the health center, learned that adenovirus was present on campus.

On Nov. 9, a physician at Washington Adventist Hospital in Maryland emailed McBride and expressed concern about severely ill patients who were seeking treatment at the hospital and wrote: “Perhaps you have an outbreak of Adenovirus on the campus.”

University officials discussed — but decided against — notifying students with compromised immune systems and residents living in Elkton Hall, the dorm that had the most severe mold infestation, according to records reviewed by The Post.

Olivia Paregol’s condition rapidly deteriorated as her doctors struggled to figure out the cause of her illness. On Nov. 13, her father called the university pleading for answers. It was only then, as the teenager was fighting for her life at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, that McBride disclosed the adenovirus cases on campus to the Paregol family.

That day, doctors started treating her with an antiviral known as cidofovir, but the treatment made no difference. Olivia Paregol died Nov. 18. The next day, the university for the first time acknowledged that adenovirus had sickened six students and urged the community to take the virus seriously.

In the notice of claim, the Paregols accused the University of Maryland of “a pattern of gross recklessness and wanton disregard for the health and safety of its students.”

Sarah Larimer contributed to this report.

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