Exchange student dies in Arundel Netherlands teen suddenly collapses at Severn School

October 22, 1992|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer Staff writers Roger Twigg and 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, was waiting outside for a ride after school when he dropped to the ground at 3:12 p.m., said Edson P. Sheppard Jr., 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."

Mr. Sheppard said the boy had no known health problems. An autopsy was to be conducted today.

Faculty members performed CPR on the youth while an ambulance rushed to the scene. He was taken to Anne Arundel General Hospital in Annapolis, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving, county police said.

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.

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.

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 West Coast of the United States, 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."

American Field Service officials 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 Hugo was "very popular with the students" and fit in well on campus. Hugo belonged to a table tennis club that met after school, Mr. Sheppard said. He had played in a match after school yesterday, the principal said.

School faculty members and counselors met early today and decided to conduct simultaneous meetings with students at the start of the school day, with those in grades 6-8 in one and 9-12 in the other. The private school has 446 students and 36 full-time faculty.

"Students have had to deal with some very difficult emotions today," Mr. Sheppard said. "Some of them were unaware of what happened until they arrived this morning. Others came to school knowing this was a serious day."

He estimated that as many as 100 students witnessed the Houwen boy's collapse.

All school athletic contests scheduled for today were postponed.

Arrangements haven't been made yet for the funeral. Plans for a memorial service began today, and some students already had begun work on assembling a book of activities and remembrances to give to the dead boy's family.

The New York-based American Field Service 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 American Field Service 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 boy's hometown in the Netherlands is listed as Hilversum, he said.

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