| Exeter College, Oxford
London, Nov. 14: Exeter College in Oxford was in mourning today after two of its undergraduates died on Monday evening from what were said to be unrelated causes at the city’s John Radcliffe Hospital.
“It was an awful coincidence,” commented a spokeswoman for the university.
Sundeep Watts, a 19-year-old law student believed to be of Indian origin, was diagnosed with meningitis on Saturday. Another freshman, Harcourt “Olly” Tucker, also aged 19 and reading PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics), suffered a heart attack while playing hockey on Sunday morning.
That the deaths should have taken place on the same evening at the same hospital of two undergraduates from the same college has shaken the university. But an attempt was being made today to restore normal life and avoid panic but, at the same time, take sensible precautions against meningitis, a deadly disease that can spread quickly.
Famous alumni at Exeter (founded 1314) include J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, playwright Alan Bennett and athlete Roger Bannister.
Frances Cairncross, the Rector (principal) of Exeter College, a former financial journalist who has close connections with India and has numerous Indian friends, expressed shock on behalf of parents, students and dons: “Exeter College is devastated by the deaths of two of its first-year students. Our hearts go out to their families and friends.”
“The deaths are entirely unconnected,” she emphasised. “Sundeep Watts was diagnosed on Saturday with meningitis. ‘Olly’ Tucker died of a heart attack while playing hockey on Sunday morning. All the specialists dealing with him have assured us that there is no connection whatsoever between the two cases.”
She added: “We know now, although it wasn’t possible to know before tragedy struck, that ‘Ollie’ Tucker had an uncommon, and potentially dangerous, underlying heart condition termed hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is one of the conditions known to cause sudden cardiac collapse in young athletes. As is often the case, the diagnosis was only made after the event.”
Cairncross said that Exeter, which has 450 students in residence, had “taken advice at every stage from the public-health authorities. Their view is that our other students are not at any increased risk of contracting meningitis.
“However, we have reinforced from Saturday onwards knowledge of the warning symptoms of meningitis. Our staff have worked non-stop to answer questions from the student body, and will continue to do so. We have arranged an extensive network of counselling for anyone who requires it.”
She made it plain that the College was taking steps to prevent panic. “The information we have been given is that it is preferable that the students remain in Oxford than that they return home early. The college doctor and the medical authorities are extremely alert to signs of meningitis.