A wave of shock rolled through Montauk last weekend as the news spread that David Hartstein, a resident and a chiropractor with offices in East Hampton and Montauk, had died. Late Wednesday the Centers for Disease Control had confirmed that hantavirus was the cause of Dr. Hartstein's death.
Dr. Hartstein, who was 35, had been ill for just over a week. His sudden death left his wife, Heather, and their three young children grappling with their loss.
The family lives in an old Carl Fisher house, a Tudor-style stucco in lower Shepherds Neck that was probably built in the late 1920s.
About two weeks ago, after cleaning out the basement, Dr. Hartstein came down with flu-like symptoms. His wife thought he had picked up a bug, or perhaps had Lyme disease. But late last Thursday night he took a turn for the worse, spiking a high fever and complaining of shortness of breath.
An ambulance was called, and he was admitted to Southampton Hospital at about 3 a.m. on Friday. He died that evening at 7:26 p.m., said Shira Barzilay, a family friend.
The Suffolk County Health Department is doing tests this week for several types of disease, among them hantavirus, which is transmitted through the inhalation of airborne particles from dessicated mouse droppings. The Health Department has confirmed the rare virus as the cause of death. Ms. Barzilay said hospital officials determined that the young doctor should be checked for the virus, as his condition had fit the symptoms.
Grace McGovern-Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Health Department, said an autopsy was being done and several diseases were being tested for, adding that it could take weeks before the results are known. The last confirmed hantavirus case on Long Island was in 1995, she said. In Montauk, anxious neighbors were calling other anxious neighbors all week, seeking any information they could get about the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s Web site, once the virus is transmitted it can become full-blown hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. The Web site actually calls it a “mystery disease,” but identifies deer mice as the primary source. The first known case involved a young couple who died within days of each other in 1993, in the Four Corners area where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet.
On Tuesday, the Suffolk County Heath Commissioner, Dr. James L. Tomarken, said in a brief release that “the medical examiner is conducting an autopsy. Results of the autopsy will be shared with the next of kin. If the results of the autopsy determine that there is a public health concern, we will address that concern appropriately.”
At an outdoor Blessing of the Boards at Montauk’s St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church on Sunday, the Rev. Mike Rieder, standing in full vestment over a cache of surfboards, boogey boards, and skateboards, started the ceremony by announcing Dr. Hartstein’s death. An audible gasp ran through the crowd, a mixed one of residents and visitors. Mr. Rieder noted that the young father was a surfer and then proceeded to drench the boards and the crowd with holy water. In a mass e-mail sent on Sunday afternoon, Katherine King, a family friend, urged that fund-raising for the family begin immediately. “I am still struggling to be so practical in light of such tragedy,” she wrote.
Dr. Hartstein leaves three young children, Devon, 5, Logan, 3, and Shane, 1. The family is devastated, Ms. Barlizay said. They have not returned to the Montauk house yet and are staying with her in East Hampton. “She cannot handle being alone with three children,” said Ms. Barzilay. “There are no words to describe the complete devastation. It’s a tragedy. I’ve known grief and sadness before, but this is beyond that.”
The Hartsteins recently converted to Kadampa Buddhism. There will be a traditional Buddhist ceremony today at Solé East at 2:30 p.m. Those who attend have been asked to take flowers to cover a shrine.
Donations for the family are being accepted by the East End Foundation, a local organization that helps Montauk families in need, and can be sent in care of Roger Feit to P.O. Box 1746, Montauk 11954. “They need all the help they can get,” Mr. Feit said on Tuesday.