The Long Road From China

Quarantined students from St. Mary's receive warm welcome back home
St Mary's High School student Mackenzie Krieser, 16, is greeted by her sister Kaleah, 13, dressed in a hospital gown and mask and her friend Rachel Raniele, 13, at the Medford airport as the last 12 students returned from China. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photoBob Pennell

Amid loud applause and a few tears, the 12 remaining St. Mary's School students filed into the Medford airport Saturday night, ending an epic China trip during which they were twice quarantined after one of them tested positive for the virus that causes swine flu.

Nearly 100 parents and friends crammed into the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport's terminal to greet the students, whose exploits gained national attention once the Chinese government decided to quarantine them after one student came down with the H1N1 virus on July 17.

The 12 were not allowed to return home until they tested negative for the virus.

The triumphant return was not without a little humor.

Mackenzie Krieser, 16, embraced her sister who was clad in a white mask and medical suit. The two shared a chuckle over the costume.

"She's dressed like one of those doctor people who took care of me the whole time," Krieser said.

The students agreed it was quite a trip even though they spent only a few days immersed in Chinese culture.

After Chinese officials confirmed one student tested positive for the H1N1 virus they were taken to a hospital, where they were treated for symptoms which included mild fever and exhaustion.

The rest of the group was allowed to tour a few sites, including the Great Wall, before being ordered into a five-day quarantine. One student returned home because of a death in the family.

The first batch of students arrived to the same in the early morning hours of Aug. 1.

Ben Kline, 18, was disappointed that he could not spend more time exploring China, but understood the government's decision to sequester them from the rest of society.

"We realized the situation and it was understandable," Kline said. "Any other government would have done the same thing."

Kline hoped to study martial arts at the Dengfeng Shaolin Temple, but managed only a single dinner with his teacher Zheng Hong Feng.

"It was a great dinner, though," said Nick Phillips, one of the seven chaperones who made the trip. Phillips was the last of the chaperones to return.

They were kept in hospital rooms next to each other and could visit their fellow students whenever they wanted, Kline said.

"They really tried to make us as comfortable as possible," Kline said. "I have to say the Chinese hospital staff was very friendly the whole time."

Early on in the trip Kline was stricken with the virus, which he said knocked him for a loop.

"When I woke up the first day with it I couldn't get out of bed for 30 minutes," he said.

The Chinese government provided laptops to the students and checked on them several times a day, Kline said.

Kline hopes to return to China someday for a more fulfilling adventure.

"It was definitely frustrating," he said. "It was going to be an amazing cultural experience."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail

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