‘I went unconscious’: Muncie man struggles to recover 1 year after West Nile Virus diagnosis

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MUNCIE, Ind. — James Whitley spent around a month in the hospital last August after a mosquito carrying West Nile Virus bit him. The problem, and this happens to all patients, he did not know he was infected until he started showing symptoms.

The Indiana Department of Public Health says people need a doctor's exam to know they have West Nile Virus. Some of the common symptoms include headaches, high fever, muscle weakness, stiff neck and confusion. Confusion is a symptom still plaguing Whitley's life now.

"This person who was left over after West Nile, I didn’t even know who that was," Whitley remembered. "He was like a stranger just sitting up there looking at the computer."

Whitley worked with computers for many years and says after being infected with West Nile Virus, he did not remember how to even turn one on. He also composed music. He works every day to get back what he lost.

"This is a very difficult disease to overcome both mentally and physically," Whitley said. "But, what I did is I focused constantly on my dream and I focused on the things that I loved and made me happy."

Whitley's longtime girlfriend, Helen Jones, says the journey is rough for the caretakers.

"Sometimes I’d get really angry then you gotta realize, he really can’t help himself," Jones said.

Jones says she practices patience because Whitley will often forget what he requested moments before.

The day before a spinal tap confirmed Whitley had West Nile Virus, he says he was experiencing stroke-like symptoms and nausea.

"She [Jones] called 911, and they came and took me to the hospital and examined me for stroke stuff and heart stuff," Whitley said. "They didn’t find anything, so I come back home."

That was a Friday in August. The next day, Whitley was much worse. Jones says he kept “picking” at her and “acting weird.” She called the ambulance again to take him to the hospital, despite emergency crews telling her he seemed fine after giving him a basic screening.

"By the time we got to the hospital, he didn’t know who I was," Jones remembered.

Whitley says he started getting seriously ill right away.

"I started throwing up everywhere man, I went unconscious," Whitley explained.

The Centers for Disease Control explains the more serious forms of the virus can cause swelling of the brain and spinal cord. There are no vaccines available for the virus, no treatment, and no cure.

The CDC says people can reduce their risk of getting bitten by a mosquito by wearing long sleeve shirts and pants outside, using bug spray containing DEET, and dumping any standing water around the home.

The Indiana Department of Public Health reported 13 cases of West Nile Virus in central Indiana in 2018.

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