Nick Sheridan


Nick enjoys all the things he did before his meningitis with the help of prosthesis

he still skis ,builds race cars and drives them

Friday, April 10, 1998 The News Sun

Near-death brush with meningitis
Copied by permission of Nick Sheridan
By Art Peterson

FOX LAKE - The black and blue spots appeared and spread across Nick Sheridan's skin like a toxic oil spill.

In the pre-dawn darkness of a Sunday morning, the 24 year old was realizing that the flu-like symptoms, which had pained him since the previous afternoon, might be something bad.

The nature of the dark blots began to reveal itself with the onset of heavy pain.

"It felt like someone had beat me non-stop," Sheridan said.  It had started out as a normal September weekend.

"I did some shopping, went to the bank, worked on my snowmobile trailer;" he recalled. "Then I started getting some stomach pain. I thought I had food poisoning:"

He took medication, rested some and got on with his chores.

He never awoke from the nightmare that followed.

Toward dawn, he needed to go to the bathroom. But after getting out of bed, he couldn't walk, and had to crawl along the floor - holding a wall for support. He telephoned a friend for help.

His friend helped lift Sheridan up into the cab of a pickup truck and they rushed to Northern Illinois Medical Center in McHenry.

Sheridan, whose approach to life is light-hearted, joked with the emergency room staff. Routine tests got under way.

Before final test results were completed, one nurse became suspicious of the affliction and started administering antibiotics. Nick's mother, Ruth Sheridan, credits that nurse with saving Nick's life.

Tests confirmed that Sheridan's invader was a form of bacterial meningitis which frequently kills victims within 24 hours. The black and blue spots were dying skin, muscle and even parts of bone. Blood vessels were hemorrhaging and clotting instead of circulating life-sustaining nourishment.

He was loaded onto a Flight For Life helicopter in excruciating pain.

"They couldn't touch any part of my body without my screaming," he said.

His vital signs faltered twice during the flight to Froedtert Memorial Hospital in Milwaukee.

Sheridan remembers most of the flight, seeing the city lights from the sky, and being wheeled into the hospital. But he lapsed into unconsciousness for several weeks. All he remembers now are strange hallucinations.

Fight with death

During that time, he came as close to death as a person can.

"His systems shut down three times," his mother said. "For two-and-a-half weeks we didn't know if he was going to make it."

The bacteria was killed by the antibiotics within hours, but the damage it caused was irreversible.

Sheridan's family took photographs of his body, graphic evidence of the damage, to help explain to him why doctors had to do what they did.

Surgeons amputated both of Sheridan's legs below the knee and his lower right arm and removed the right side of his chest, his nose, and the fingers of his left hand beyond the middle knuckles. Large chunks of skin from around his body and limbs also were removed.

Sheridan's first memory is awakening weeks later with his legs and arms heavily-bandaged. Instead of looking forward to a joyous winter of snowmobiling and skiing at Wilmot Mountain, his mission now was to simply survive.

He spent nearly three months in the hospital, mostly in intensive care, and has undergone 20 surgeries. He needs about nine more.

The cause of his meningitis infection is not known.

Five percent of the population carries the bacteria without ever suffering. Only a few are susceptible.

This particular bug is not resistant to antibiotics, but it reproduces so rapidly that it quickly floods a body with a protein
that destroys blood vessels.


Winter and early spring have seen Sheridan and his mother making frequent return visits to the hospital for additional surgeries and therapy. He's been fitted with a prosthetic nose until reconstructive surgeries are done, and soon will be fitted with a prosthetic arm and legs.

Through it all, he has mostly maintained an upbeat attitude.

"He's given us all our strength," his mother said. "He's an inspiration. I'm proud of him."

Sheridan's doctor calls him "one of the most motivated guys you can imagine."

"This kid has got pretty good heart," said Dr. James Sangei; who has done most of the surgeries. "He's had a sense of humor through all this. I would have crawled into a hole, but he's a tough kid.

"And his mother is unbelievable. She lived at the hospital, caring for him when he was really ill, but she lost her job. I hate to see a family go through that. The family resources are totally drained. Through all this, they've been wonderful people to deal with.

"Once this guy gets up, I think you'll see an amazing turnaround."

Sanger estimates it will take another month before the most recent skin graft operations heal enough to begin fitting Sheridan with artificial legs and an arm.

Although much of the skin and tendons died in Sheridan's remaining hand, Sanger wrapped the bones in abdominal skin, now in a sort of skin mitten that will eventually be separated into fingers.

Saving a usable hand "is important because he's got something to grip with," Sanger said. "He'll have three prostheses to put on everyday."

Devastating damage

Ten Years ago, the bacteria that attacked Sheridan killed most of the people it infected, Sanger said.

"Now we can save them," he said. "The infection is usually treated within hours. But we still don't have an answer to preventing the secondary damage to the blood vessels."

Sanger said he only sees one or two adult victims a year. But that doesn't lessen the impact on surgical teams.

"Every time I see these; my heart drops, because we know we're in for a lot of discouraging work," he said. "It is not very satisfying to have to amputate."

Although insurance has covered much of his health care costs, approaching $500,000, the rest has plunged Sheridan and his mother $60,000 into debt.

Sheridan is confident he will walk again. In addition to support from family, friends and coworkers, he is buoyed by two lifelong loves: the Chicago Cubs and stock car racing at Wilmot Speedway.

NEW Article on Nick!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GO NICK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Fox Lake's Sheridan a winner: period


Sports Editor

He might not win a lot of heat or feature heat races. Heck, in years past, Fox Lake's Nick Sheridan struggled at times to even finish a race.

But ask anyone back in pit row and one common theme will emerge: this guy has a lot of guts just being out there.

readying to race

Sheridan has been competing in 1200cc Mini Sprint races for the past four years. Venues have included Wilmot Speedway, Chilton (Wis.), Sycamore and in Indiana at Crown Point.

Just being out there, though, gives Sheridan plenty of reason to be thankful. It was back in 1997 that Sheridan, now 29, was plagued with a form of bacterial meningitis. The result-he had to have his legs amputated from the knees down.

Furthermore, he had to have his right arm amputated from the elbow down while also losing parts of his fingers on his right hand.

A lot of people would have thrown in the towel right then and there.

Not Sheridan, who after some 30-plus operations that have included reconstructing his nose, said, 'this is something I really want to do. My father (who passed away a few years ago) was and still is a big inspiration for me wanting to race." In fact, you'll find inside Sheridan's car a tribute message to his dad: dedicated in memory of Bill Sheridan-'Dad'.

Fellow competitor Tom Brown, who also helps Sheridan out with his car when mechanical problems arise, said Sheridan's got 'a lot of heart, and that he inspires a lot of the other drivers just by being out there."

Long-time good friend and pit crew chief Matt Sherman has known Nick since they were in grade school.

"He's always wanted to do this (race) since after he got sick," said Sherman, buckling in his good buddy for a heat race at Wilmot Speedway a couple of weeks ago. "Nick's just very determined and confident. Our first couple of years doing this (racing) was kind of a learning experience. But as he gotten in more 'seat time' now, and with a new motor in the car, we think we can do well in every race we're in now."

Mechanic Val Woods, who works for Harley Davidson on Touhy and Western Avenues in Chicago, helped build Sheridan's new motor at the start of this season.

"We also installed a brand new ignition sysytem. That changed everything about how the car ran," said Sherman, a mechanic himself who operates out of his home in Trevor, Wis.

New motor, new ignition, more confidence-that has led to Sheridan and Sherman having their most successful season to date.

Sheridan's best finish this year was second in a heat race at Wilmot.

"Man, I was leading all the way going into the last lap and I hit a bump and the ball and socket fell off the steering wheel," said Sheridan. "I wasn't too happy but still, it showed me that we had the car now to compete with everyone."

His very first race this year, with the new engine, was a fourth place effort in a heat race at Crown Point, Ind.

As for the rest of the season, which culminates in October, Sheridan plans to keep running at the aforementioned racetracks.

After that, "I'm not too sure. It's getting pretty expensive and it takes a lot of time," said Sheridan, who would like to someday start his own vinyl sign machine business.

"But we'll see. I'm definitely a lot more confident and I still love racing. We'll see."

Sheridan's racing wouldn't be possible if not for his proud sponsors. Rob and Lenny Steffen of Liberty Die & Mold in Round Lake helped build a steering wheel adapter for his prosthetic right arm. They also fix everything that bends and breaks.

But Sheridan's right-hand man has and always will be Sherman. "He really enjoys racing and has been there right from the beginning," said Sheridan.






Nick Sheridan (right) and Matt Sherman are ready
to go for another night of racing
Mini sprints at Wilmot Speedway.
--Photos by John Phelps





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