Former Young American winner, 31, dies
Monday, January 12, 2009
Posted January 12, 2009 @ 4:11 p.m.
Patrick Meissen, an avid sports fan, former honor student and Rockford Register Star Young American award recipient, died Saturday after a lifelong battle with muscular dystrophy.
Meissen, 31, was a standout student at Boylan Catholic High School, Class of 1996; and Rock Valley College, Class of 1998, despite his struggles with the disease, which in Meissen’s case severely weakened his muscles during the course of his life.
He lived life from a wheelchair from the fifth grade on and breathed with the help of a ventilator the past 10 years.
Those close to Meissen remembered him for his positive attitude and spirit for life despite the challenges he faced.
“Patrick was a tremendous blessing to us,” said Sister Mary Anthony, principal at Boylan when Meissen was a student. “He was very well-liked and liked to be involved in what was going on at the school. He was always very positive ... a real gift to us.”
Meissen was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as a baby, said his mother, Clara Meissen.
Doctors didn’t think he’d live past his teenage years.
Instead, as a teenager, Meissen was a member of the National Honor Society and named Fan of the Year at Boylan in 1995. When he graduated in 1996, Meissen’s classmates gave him a standing ovation.
“We just lost it,” Clara Meissen said. “He deserved it, but it was hard to watch. They all stood up for him and cheered. We just cried.”
Meissen was an “A” student, Clara Meissen said. He was determined to do well until he could no longer attend classes.
“He couldn’t do anything physical, but he’d say, ‘I can do the academics, so I’m going to do it,’ ” she said. “After Rock Valley, he enrolled in Rockford College, but things got too difficult for him. That was when he had go to on a ventilator.”
In another life, in another body, Meissen probably would have played basketball and become a teacher, his mother said.
“When he was in high school, he would watch the basketball team practice afterschool as he waited for me to pick him up. He went to all of the games and kept a journal of who scored and what happened,” she said. “He loved studying history. He read a lot of everything. He wanted to be history teacher.”
Even though he knew he’d never be able to live on his own, Meissen said her son supported others in their quest through volunteer work with RAMP, a nonprofit agency that promotes independent living and accessibility for people with disabilities. He was a poster child for the Muscular Dystrophy Association in 1988.
“He was a pretty amazing guy,” said Rockford Ald. John Beck, who worked as development director for RAMP for 22 years. “He had a strong spirit despite the serious illness he had. Every year, he’d show up at our Wheel-A-Thon and raise quite a bit of money.”
Meissen’s greatest joy in recent years was playing chess and spending time with family, particularly his niece and nephew, ages 5 and 1.
“He lit up when they were around,” Clara Meissen said. “I’d prop his arms up with pillows so he could hold them.”
Dr. Frank Nicolosi, who treated Meissen for 10 years, called Meissen an inspiration to all who met him.
“He was very brave. He was determined to live life to the fullest,” Nicolosi said. “He was a bright man, very intelligent, optimistic and upbeat. He met the challenges of muscular dystrophy in a very courageous way.”
Family members spent the weekend reading good-bye letters that Meissen wrote to them in recent months as his condition worsened.
“He wrote all these really nice things,” Clara Meissen said. “He said, ‘Don’t miss me too much.’ ”