Bloomfield man recovering from West Nile

Sunday, September 16, 2012
Johnny Smith

BLOOMFIELD, Mo. -- When 79-year-old Johnny Smith of Bloomfield became ill in July, his wife of 59 years thought it was just a bug of some kind. He visited his physician and was prescribed an antibiotic, but his condition did not improve.

"He just kept getting worse," Patricia Smith said, "and he was running a temperature of 103."

Her husband was eventually admitted to Southeast Hospital in Cape Girardeau. Little did the couple know that the hospital would become their second home well into August as he recovered from the West Nile virus.

"At first," Johnny Smith said, "I was just so tired. I didn't want to do anything. My legs and arms hurt and I had a high fever and chills. I felt so badly that I just didn't want to go on. There were many times I would have welcomed death."

For both Smiths, the worst part of his ordeal was dealing with nearly a total loss of memory. Patricia Smith watched and witnessed as, day by day, her husband became less and less familiar with his surroundings, even his own children.

"She was the only one that I recognized and remembered," Johnny Smith said.

Tests were run, but none provided a diagnosis.

Finally, after more than a week's stay at Southeast, doctors ordered a lumbar puncture for Johnny. Also called a spinal tap, the procedure collects cerebrospinal fluid from the spine for testing.

When the fluid was examined, it was confirmed that Johnny had encephalitis, and that encephalitis stemmed from the West Nile virus in his system. The finding prompted a move into the Intensive Care Unit at Southeast.

The West Nile virus is transmitted by mosquitoes to birds, various animals and sometimes humans. While most people infected with the virus show no symptoms, occasional infections can result in serious illness and even death. Johnny Smith had severe manifestation of West Nile, marked by his rapid onset of fever, head and body aches, a stiff neck, muscle weakness, and disorientation.

Once the diagnosis was made, physicians administered the proper medications to help Smith's recovery.

"They told us that because it is viral, the disease has to run its course," Patricia Smith said. "But the symptoms can be treated."

Johnny Smith received intravenous fluids and nutrition, as well as respiratory support through use of an inhaler as needed.

Two more weeks were spent in the hospital once the diagnosis came through. The Smiths came home, but life is not as it was before July. Although strides have been made, Johnny will likely spend the next several months recovering.

"I still don't have a lot of strength back," he said. "But I am getting my memory back. They tell me it's going to be a slow process."

For the man with a hearty appetite who was accustomed to spending his days outdoors and working on building elaborate wooden playhouses for his great-grandchildren, it's been a frustrating experience, he said, to find himself suddenly facing limitations where there were none a few short months ago. He is aided by a walker for the first time in his 79 years, and he takes massive doses of vitamins to aid in his recovery. He is trying to regain the 20 pounds the disease claimed and is undergoing both speech therapy to help fully regain his memory and physical therapy to regain his muscle strength.

Pertinent address:

Bloomfield, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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