Forrest Co. Woman with West Nile Virus and YMCA teach kids about disease

Forrest Co. Woman with West Nile Virus and YMCA teach kids about disease

HATTIESBURG, MS - A Forrest County woman with West Nile Virus is educating children in the community about the virus.

Sandra Jordan said in Aug. 2009, she was bitten by a mosquito that completely altered her life.

"No one was sure why I was ill," Jordan said. On the 16 of August I woke up completely paralyzed with a very high fever, unable, obviously, to move and not terribly conscious of what was going on."

Her doctor ordered a West Nile Virus test and test positive for neuroinvasive West Nile Virus.

"There are generally three categories spoken of of West Nile," Jordan said. "A minor kind of case where people think they have have the flu for a couple of months or couple of weeks. Then, usually those symptoms subside. No one really knows if there will be symptoms, without knowing what they came from, several weeks or months or years later. There's the other level that they call the fever level, which is a high fever, usually disorientation. And people generally recover fairly substantially from that. Mine is the third level. They thought originally that very few people got the third level, but there's now evidence that more of us have this third level, which is called Neuroinvasive West Nile."

Jordan said she calls West Nile a "mean disease" because everyone she knows with the virus also has a secondary illness.

"Either an autoimmune condition, Bell's palsy or, in my case, Myasthenia Gravis, which is an autoimmune condition," Jordan said. "I have talked to other persons who have had cancer concurrently, and for some reason West Nile likes to travel with other conditions. Mine was discovered three months later. It's called Myasthenia Gravis. It's an autoimmune disease. It reparalyzed me just as I was beginning to gain some functionality. It also shuts doen the system from the head down to the toes."

Jordan said her autoimmune disease caused vision, swallowing and eventually breathing problems.

"The recovery was very slow, very long," Jordan said. "To this day, I have tremendous trouble walking. walking because the neurotransmitters in my brain to my muscles no longer work correctly. It impacted the spinal fluid in my spine. It impacted the brain. I had the West Nile encephalitis, which is very common, and the long term impact for me has been an inability to have endurance and an inability to have a proper gait in walking."

Along with the paralysis, Jordan said was put on a respirator for "quite some time."

"You actually do forget how to walk," she said. "You actually do forget how to breathe of you're on a respirator. And I know, as crazy as that sounds, it is reality. The night before I was taken off the respirator, I was desperately frightened that I'd forgotten how to breathe."

After physical and occupational therapies, Jordan turned to the Family YMCA in Hattiesburg for exercise therapy, which she said "becomes life long."

"I should probably pay rent here that's how much I'm here," Jordan said.

She said her experience at the YMCA has been "really life saving" and also connected her to someone else with the disease.

"By chance I met Sandra Jordan here at the YMCA in the lobby one day just having conversation with her," said Dan Henley, director of the Family YMCA. "She was talking about West Nile, which was just so coincidental because I personally had West Nile probably eight years ago now."

Henley had the second or fever level of the virus and said he has made a full recovery.

"I feel I made a full recovery, but nobody knows. There's still not enough research out there. Who knows what impact it had on me, what's going to take place, say. 10 years form now?"

Henley also said he lost consciousness from West Nile.

"It was just a horrible experience," Henley said. "I lost seven days of my life. It took a full six months to recover. My whole life was upside down in turmoil for that full seven days and six months. I took it upon myself to get tested for the disease, and that's what I had."

Both Jordan and Henley said that it is important to know that patients can ask for a West Nile Virus test because symptoms often look like they could be linked to something else. That's why they both want to start educational sessions with the children in the YMCA after school programs.

"We want to start trying to educate the children that are here because we have them here everyday," Henley said. "I don't think West Nile is top of mind for people in the general community."

Henley said people should think of West Nile protection like they think of sun protection. He says if you wouldn't send children into the sun without sunscreen, don't send them outside in the summer without bug spray.

Jordan has been trying to start an educational program in the community for years, and said she wants to prevent other from going through what she went through.

"It was about a month of not knowing what was going on and the terror of those moments of not knowing is perhaps the reason I've become committed to trying to inform others," Jordan said.