No place like home

Teen struck with meningitis making progress   

By Jennifer Lassiter
star staff

 HAMPTON -- A photo album tells the tragic story of Thomas Stills' struggle with bacterial spinal meningitis, which started a little over six months ago. His mother, Elaine Stills, keeps Polaroids of his hospital stays, and visits from family and friends at home, where he now receives full-time care.
  "Being home with his family has helped him more than anything," said Roy Nidiffer, Thomas' grandfather. Thomas was sent to Kluge Children's Rehabilitation Center in Charlottesville, Va., for several weeks in February. The bill for two weeks totaled $80,000. Family members were taught how to give care at home, and given tips on how to save money.
  Last December started out great for Thomas Stills, an average 14-year-old who enjoyed hunting and fishing, until he started developing an earache, painful enough to go to the emergency room at Sycamore Shoals Hospital. After receiving medical care and antibiotics, he returned home.
  On Dec. 31, Abby, a boxer bull-dog mix dog belonging to Nidiffer, alerted Elaine and her husband Robert, by gently nudging them toward Thomas' room. They opened his door to find him unresponsive and immediately called 911.
  "I had no earthly idea what was wrong," Elaine said. "We'll never know what caused it because he was on antibiotics, but they think it was started from a case of strep throat."
  After a spinal tap, they diagnosed Thomas with bacterial meningitis, which is the most severe form of the disease. Elaine quit her job immediately to care for her son at home with the help of nurses.
  Today, Thomas is bedridden and receives food through a feeding tube. His latest surgery was because his strokes had refrained his left eye from blinking, so they sewed his eyelids together to keep his eye moist. In his coma state, Thomas can no longer talk or respond to his family although according to Elaine his condition has improved.
  "The community has been great to us," said Elaine. The Hampton Bass Club donated $500 to Hampton Pharmacy to pay for medications and items not covered by insurance. Hampton Pharmacy matched the amount donated bringing the total to $1,000. Simerly Creek True Holiness Church of God recently held a singing event dedicated to Thomas. They raised $988 for the Stills family.
  A doctor in Johnson City prescribed Thomas anti-depression medication that seems to be helping said Elaine, adding that he can understand and recognize people.
  Robert works for Mullican Flooring in Johnson City where he receives insurance from Corporate Systems that covers the majority of Thomas' bills, according to Elaine. Thomas also has insurance through TennCare.
  But, with bills totaling over $400,000, there are certain items that just aren't covered. Over-the-counter items like Tylenol and Neosporin are just a few. According to Elaine, their monthly medical bills not covered by insurance total $400.
  Donations to help the family can be sent to an account established at Elizabethton Federal Savings Bank, P.O. Box 1930, Elizabethton, TN 37644.