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Golden Empire Youth Tackle Football & Cheer


Tyler Bridgewater



A Bakersfield family and a local youth football league are in mourning this week following the valley fever-related death of Standard Middle School seventh-grader Tyler Bridgewater.

Tyler, 12, died Saturday at Children's Hospital Central California in Madera, nearly four months after contracting valley fever and encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.


"We did everything to try to turn it around," Tyler's mother, Monika Blake, said of the many surgeries her son underwent.


"But after fighting it for four months," she said, "Tyler went into complete organ failure."

The family is in shock, with Tyler's 10-year-old brother, Steven, and two sisters, Tori, 16, and Breanna, 8, trying to make sense of the loss.


"It's hard for them," Tyler's mom said. "But they're doing OK."


Tyler's teammates and coaches in the youth football league he played for are also dealing with the loss.  Tyler played on the North Fire team.


"The whole league is mourning," said Ron White, the executive director of Golden Empire Youth Tackle Football.


"I've received countless calls to my office," White said. "Not only do people want to help the family financially, they want to reach out in any way they can."


It's no small thing. Tyler's mom left her job in October so she could remain at Tyler's bedside in Madera throughout his struggle. Tyler's stepdad, Andy Rost, stayed behind to watch the other children and bring them to Madera to visit whenever possible.


Rost described Tyler as a young man who was "open-hearted," who was willing to befriend anyone who needed a friend.


"He met the world with open arms," Rost said.


And football. Tyler loved football, the New England Patriots and especially his North Fire teammates.


Only his family was more important.


"He was very protective of his brother and sisters," his mother said. "He always wanted to make others around him happy."


Dr. Claudia Jonah, public health officer for Kern County, said only about 1 percent of those who contract valley fever suffer permanent damage from the illness. But for that 1 percent, it can be extremely dangerous, even fatal.


The fungal disease is caused when spores in dry soil become airborne and are inhaled. The spores are endemic in certain parts of California, Arizona and other areas of the American southwest.

Most cases are mild, Jonah said. In fact most people don't know they have it as they may exhibit mild flu symptoms or no symptoms at all.


And once you've had it -- and most longtime area residents have probably had it -- chances of a recurrence are quite small, Jonah said.


"If you live here you should educate yourself about this illness," she said. People should be cautious about being out in windy, dusty conditions, but "dust itself doesn't equate to a problem."

Dust stirred up from land whose soil has remained relatively undisturbed, such as the foothills northeast of Bakersfield, is to be guarded against. A dust mask may help, but it's not foolproof, she said, as the organisms that cause the disease are very tiny.


Services for Tyler are scheduled for this weekend. A viewing will take place from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at Hillcrest Mortuary. A memorial service is scheduled for at 2 p.m. Sunday, also at Hillcrest. The public is invited.


Meanwhile an account has been set up by supporters of the family at Bank of the Sierra for those who wish to help with funeral costs. The account number is 260 008 7330. The routing number is 121 137 027












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