Burns and disease may have been a fatal combination for Iron Range, Minn., teen

DULUTH - The disease that claimed the life of a Mesabi East High School student is uncommon and rarely fatal, the St. Louis County medical examiner said Thursday.

Jordan Adams-Meckola
Mesabi East High School student Jordan Adams-Meckola (submitted photo)

DULUTH - The disease that claimed the life of a Mesabi East High School student is uncommon and rarely fatal, the St. Louis County medical examiner said Thursday.

Jordan Adams-Meckola, 17, died suddenly on May 12 at Miller-Dwan Medical Center in Duluth. He had been hospitalized since suffering burns on April 26 in a welding accident at his school. But he had been recovering from the burns when he died.

Dr. Thomas Uncini, the medical examiner, said Jordan's death was caused by Addison's disease, a rare hormonal disease. And the disease usually isn't fatal, he said.

"This is the first case I've ever seen when someone died from it" going back to 1988, Uncini said.

According to the medical website WebMD, only five or six cases of Addison's occur in a million people per year, and the mortality rate is only 1.4 in a million cases per year. Although it can occur at any age, it most frequently hits people ages 30 to 50, and it occurs more often among women than among men.


Although Adams-Meckola was recovering from his burn wounds, the accident could have been a factor in his death, Uncini said.

"It was Addison's disease, which can be exacerbated by stress," he said. "Any kind of stressful situation can make the Addison's worse. The burns itself wouldn't have killed him."

Nothing in Adams-Meckola's medical history indicated his family knew he had Addison's, which is difficult to diagnose, particularly in its early stages, Uncini said.

The News Tribune was unable to speak with Adams-Meckola's family members on Thursday. His parents' phone has been disconnected. His grandmother declined to comment.

But the Rev. Karl Helwig, who officiated at the teen's funeral, confirmed that Jordan's family didn't know he had the disease while he was alive. Helwig, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Aurora, said they knew of the autopsy results at the time of the funeral but chose not to make them public.

Addison's disease is a disorder of the adrenal glands. It's difficult to diagnose because the early symptoms are nonspecific, Uncini said. They include malaise, fatigue, anorexia and weight loss, and in some cases nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In more-advanced cases, he said, symptoms may include low blood pressure, salt craving, low blood sugar and a darker pigmentation of the skin. President Kennedy was among those who had the disease.

Once diagnosed, it is treatable, Uncini said.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the welding accident isn't complete. Mesabi East Superintendent Shawn Northey said the district hired a private company that conducted an investigation, but he is still is waiting for a separate report from the state fire marshal's office. Christine Chapin, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Public Health, said that investigation is continuing.


No disciplinary action has been taken as a result of the accident, Northey said.

The cause of death doesn't change the sorrow the Mesabi East community feels, Northey said. "I still doesn't replace what we lost here. We lost a good student."

The Duluth News Tribune and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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