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Odds of Survival
Physicians: Mark Harrison, MD
As an avid outdoorsman, Stan Smith has faced bears while hunting in Alaska, but last year he confronted a more formidable challenge borne by an animal just one-tenth of an inch long.
Retired from the Department of Defense, Stan splits his time between Michigan and Louisiana and doesn’t know exactly where he contracted West Nile Virus (WNV). But after a mosquito bite sometime in November 2016, Stan developed a high fever and became disoriented. He was transported by ambulance from Southwestern Medical Clinic, Stevensville to Lakeland Medical Center, St. Joseph.
With no existing antiviral treatment for WNV, severe cases receive supportive treatment, such as intravenous fluids and respiratory support. For Stan, that treatment was overseen by a team of neurologists, infectious disease specialists, and internal medicine physicians. One physician in particular, Mark Harrison, MD, stands out in Stan’s memory, for encouraging him to fight. By Christmas Eve, Stan’s condition was still serious, but he pulled through, thanks in part to Dr. Harrison’s watchful care and recommendations for ongoing treatment.
“I would like to look Dr. Harrison in the eye, shake his hand, and thank him,” said Stan.
Even in the fog of illness and hallucinations, Stan can recall the attentiveness of Lakeland team members in the most critical of days.
“I could tell a nurse cared just by a touch,” he said. “Even the way someone turned me over, I could feel that the touch had compassion.”
As Stan began to improve, he received therapy at the inpatient rehabilitation center within Lakeland Hospital, Watervliet. Before the initial onset of illness, Stan lifted weights, squatting with 250 pounds and curling 150. But as he began the battle of recovery, Stan was too weak to lift even a cell phone or move a two-pound weight on his leg. In the following weeks, the physical and occupational therapy team came alongside Stan every step of the way, helping him regain strength.
“The staff was phenomenal,” said Stan. “They treated me like a person, not a patient.”
Stan entered the facility unable to walk. Two weeks later, he was sent home, walking with the help of a walker. He then underwent six weeks of outpatient therapy at Lakeland Rehabilitation Services, Health Park. Stan believes the focused attention, encouragement, and support he received from therapists and their team in the last phase of his treatment gave him the physical and emotional strength and confidence he needed to return to an active lifestyle.
A year after his diagnosis, Stan works out at Planet Fitness three times a week and continues to build up his energy level. He can squat 115 pounds again, and he’s played golf with his son.
“I’m just as bad at golfing as I was before I got sick!” he said.
Contracting WNV is uncommon, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 20 percent of those infected with WNV will develop West Nile fever. Less than one percent infected will develop a more severe form of illness. Although the slim odds of contracting WNV didn’t work in his favor, with the assistance of many medical professionals at Lakeland Health, Stan has won out in the odds of survival.
“It’s a miracle I made it,” said Stan. “I’m still here, and there’s more work left for me to do.”
West Nile Virus has been reported in 47 states. To avoid illness, preventing mosquito bites is one of the best steps you can take to protect yourself. Visit “Say Bye to Bug Bites” to learn more.