After a three-day, 30-mile hike, he began feeling flulike symptoms, which continued to worsen over the next 16 hours. Purple blotches appeared on his abdomen, indicating blood clots. All were symptoms of meningococcal meningitis, a bacterial infection that causes swelling of the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.
Up to one in five people who survive meningitis may suffer amputations, deafness, and brain and kidney damage; 10 to 15 percent die, even with rapid treatment, according to the National Meningitis Association.
Springer was sent to a hospital in Pittsfield, Mass., then was quickly airlifted to another in Springfield, where his organs began to fail and his blood pressure fell to almost zero. He was given a 10 percent chance of survival.
He was transferred to a hospital in Manhattan, where, while he was in a medically induced coma that would last eight weeks, he underwent the amputations.
After awakening, according to the 2003 New York Times article, he told his father: “Dad, I don’t think I have any fingers. I think I know about my legs, too.” Mr. Springer recalled: “My wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘This is our new normal.’ Because Nick is alive. He’s still Nick.”
Springer declined to wear prosthetics or use an electric wheelchair. And he played wheelchair rugby relentlessly.
“At a very high level, it can be really violent, and that’s what people like about it,” his friend Scott Hogsett said. “Who doesn’t want to watch two people crash in wheelchairs as hard as you can?”