St. Paul Central High School graduate, musician dies of meningitis while at UW-Madison

  • Article by: ANTHONY LONETREE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 11, 2013 - 11:45 PM

St. Paul native Henry Mackaman, a guitarist, was studying at UW-Madison.

A St. Paul native and talented guitarist attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison died in Madison of bacterial meningitis, a university spokesman said.

Henry Mackaman was 21.

Family members and friends said their goodbyes to Mackaman during an impromptu memorial service in his hospital room Wednesday, and what came through time and again, bandmate Gunnar Kauth said, was his generous spirit. Mackaman had continued to perform in an indie band he formed with a St. Paul Central High school classmate, Dan Clinton-McCausland.

“He was absolutely the most caring and positive person that I’ve ever known,” Kauth said Thursday.

In death, Mackaman also gave of himself, having agreed earlier to be an organ donor, a move that Thursday saved seven lives, according to his uncle, Dan Mackaman.

Dan Mackaman remembered his nephew as a guitar obsessive who could play “with the soul and intensity of [Jimi] Hendrix and the Black Keys, or create a lush ambient mood for the dream pop sounds” of his band, Phantom Vibration.

“Guitar playing sort of came effortlessly to him,” said Kauth, the band’s drummer. “Regardless of how sloppy we might’ve been, he would have a line of people asking him about his technique and which pedals he used.”

According to a family posting on the Caring Bridge website, Mackaman went to an emergency room Saturday night with a 104-degree fever. After a chest X-ray ruled out pneumonia, he was released and reported feeling better the following day, his family said.

But a headache and difficulty speaking led him to again seek medical care Monday, and he eventually was put in the intensive care unit.

On Wednesday, the university issued a news release that stated that a student had come down with “meningococcal disease,” and quoted Dr. Sarah Van Orman, executive director at University Health Services, saying the disease was not highly contagious and there was no reason to believe the campus community was at risk.

The bacteria are spread only through very close contact with an infected person, such as by sharing cups, smoking materials and utensils.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4,100 cases of bacterial meningitis, including 500 deaths, occurred each year between 2003 and 2007.

Students who had been in close contact with Mackaman were treated with antibiotics as a precaution, the release said.

His uncle, who went to Madison, said that in the family’s view, “we believe he received the best care possible here.”

At UW-Madison, Mackaman majored in economics and English and was a DJ at WSUM-FM Student Radio. His show was called “The Grooving Tree.”

At Central, Mackaman formed Phantom Vibration with Clinton-McCausland, and after the duo graduated in 2010, they teamed with Kauth, who attended Cretin-Derham Hall High School, and later with bass player Zack Stafford.

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