The 26-year-old Chitengwa, a rookie on the Canadian Tour who had a pair of top-ten finishes this season, passed away suddenly in Edmonton Saturday afternoon from meningococcemia, a strain of meningitis.
Chitengwas death has a nation in grieving. The rising golf professional, who beat Tiger Woods as an amateur in 1992, was idolized in Zimbabwe, and his home course was closed Sunday when news of his passing was announced. An autopsy was completed Tuesday and Chitengwas body is expected to be flown home within the next few days.
It has been very emotional for all who knew this special young man, said Alan Rae of Vancouver, who, along with golf legend Nick Price, were two of Chitengwas sponsors. Rae added Price, also from Zimbabwe, is devastated by the loss of his protg. Lewis was a hero in Zimbabwe.it is going to be a huge funeral. My main focus is to keep Lewis integrity intact and get him home.
Chitengwa is now resting at an Edmonton funeral home while officials make arrangements for his return to Zimbabwe. Rae said Chitengwa liked to wear a yellow golf shirt on the final day of a tournament, so it is fitting that he will be dressed in yellow for the long flight home. A Titleist golf hat and his putter will also stay with Chitengwa in the casket.
What is known in Chitengwa called an ambulance and was rushed to Misericordia Hospital at 7:10 a.m. Saturday, shortly before the third round of the TELUS Edmonton Open. Doctors didnt witness a stiff neck or a visible rash on Chitengwa, tell-tale symptoms of meningitis, and no blood tests were conducted. Chitengwa, diagnosed with flu-like symptoms, was sent to the home where he was staying. After withdrawing from the tournament, Chitengwa, who was five shots behind the leaders after Fridays second round, called friend and fellow Canadian Tour player Brennan Webb. Shortly after, Webb, seeing Chitengwa's conditions worsening, called another ambulance which rushed Chitengwa to the University of Alberta Hospital. Chitengwa arrived at the hospital at 2:15 p.m. but was pronounced dead at 2:55.
Despite every effort being made, we were unable to save Mr. Chitengwa, said Kelly Eby, the Capital Health Director of Public Affairs. Even if doctors had taken a blood sample at Misericordia, it would have taken 24 to 48 hours to get results back. As sad as it is, we would have been too late.
There have been a reported 65 cases of meningitis in Edmonton in the past year-and-a-half, three of which resulted in death. Eby said four of these cases were the type that felled Chitengwa. The bacteria can only be passed on through saliva or blood. Health officials are hoping tests will determine whether Chitengwa contacted the bacteria in Edmonton or at an earlier Tour stop in Vancouver.
I would like to stress to players, officials and anyone else that knew Mr. Chitengwa, unless there was something like the sharing of a drink, a water bottle, or a cigarette, there is no reason to panic, added Eby.
A memorial service is planned for Monday in Tennessee, where Chitengwa resided. Canadian Tour players and officials are also planning to set up a fund in Chitengwas memory. Rae said Chitengwa always wanted to set up a program to help junior golf in Zimbabwe.
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