Exchange student at Severn School collapses, dies

October 22, 1992|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer Staff writer David Michael Ettlin contributed to this article.

A popular 16-year-old exchange student from the Netherlands collapsed and died yesterday as he talked with classmates at the Severn School, authorities said.

Hugo van der Houwen, a native of the Netherlands who had enrolled at the Severn School through the American Field Service (AFS), was waiting outside for a ride after school when he dropped to the ground at 3:12 p.m., said Edson Sheppard, the school's headmaster.

"He was sitting and talking with a group of students outside the gymnasium, then he suddenly fell over," Mr. Sheppard said. "We don't know what happened.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions," he said. An autopsy was to be conducted today.

Mr. Sheppard said the boy did not suffer from any health problems.

Faculty members performed CPR on the youth while an ambulance rushed to the scene.

He was taken to Anne Arundel General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving, county police said.

Details leading up to the student's collapse were sketchy early today. County police reported the Houwen youth had been playing soccer after school while waiting for a ride home when he complained of shortness of breath and not feeling well. He then lay on the ground, but had further difficulty breathing, police said.

The youth arrived in the United States in August and was planning to spend a year at the Severna Park school. He was living with a host family and taking a normal range of courses as a junior at the school, authorities said.

Hugo -- the younger of two sons of a financial officer for the Free University of Amsterdam -- moved in with the family of Christopher B. and Joyce Nelson in early August, and quickly became a part of it.

"He had become a son here," said Mr. Nelson, president of St. John's College, whose home is on the Annapolis campus. He and his wife have five children; one of them, 18-year-old Erik, a senior at Severn, was both a brother and schoolmate to Hugo.

The Dutch teen-ager had previously visited the United States, on the West Coast, Mr. Nelson said.

Asked whether Hugo had talked of his interests for the future, Mr. Nelson said, "The whole world was open to him. He loved the other kids, he loved sports."

Officials of AFS said Mr. Nelson has had a son participate in the program and has been a previous host to a French exchange student.

Mr. Sheppard, headmaster of the Severn School, said the boy was "very popular with the students" and fit in well on campus. He did not belong to any athletic teams, although he did belong to a table tennis club that met after school, he said. He had played in a match after school yesterday, Mr. Sheppard said.

School faculty members and counselors will be conducting a special meeting before school today to talk about the exchange student's death. Classes will resume by midmorning and additional counseling will be available for children who need to discuss the matter further, Mr. Sheppard said.

All school athletic contests scheduled for today will be canceled, school officials said.

The boy's family members were contacted last night by the host family. Arrangements haven't been made yet for the funeral.

The New York-based AFS will place some 2,700 students from 45 countries in the United States this year, about 55 in Maryland. And it will send U.S. students to those countries.

Alan Williams, director of communications for AFS in New York City, said the youth's mother and father, along with his 18-year-old brother, will be arriving in the Baltimore area today.

The youth said in his AFS application that he was fond of sports and was looking forward to making many friends in America, Mr. Williams said. The boy's hometown in the Netherlands is listed as Hilversum, he said.

Exchange students from around Maryland will be offered counseling today.

"It's rare when we have a death in the program," Mr. Williams said. "When we do, it touches everybody."

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