The family of a retired Edmonton firefighter has launched a crowdfunding campaign to bring him home from Thailand, where he is currently in a coma after contracting a rare blood virus.

Earlier this year, former Edmonton Fire Rescue captain Bill Hughes contracted Japanese Encephalitis after being bitten by an infected mosquito in Thailand. 

A statement from his family said he was taken to a reputable private hospital in Thailand, where doctors managed to save his life. But he's been in a coma since January 17.

There is no known cure for the virus. Hughes is described as having lived a healthy lifestyle and kept active throughout his life by competing in triathlons, cycling, running or swimming every day. 

Dean Adam, a close friend of Hughes for over 50 years, said that he's shocked that a mosquito bite could do this to someone in good shape. 

"It's really hard to believe. He's the picture of health and fitness. It's either run, swim or bike every day for Bill," said Adams.

"If he's got the weather to do it, that's what he did - that's his passion in life, other than his close family members."

Hughes' daughter, Jillian, flew to Thailand shortly after her father's diagnosis and has remained there since. The family's crowdfunding campaign has a goal of $200,000, which the family is hoping to use to bring Hughes back to Edmonton via air ambulance. 

He's a fighter, he's a scrapper

Despite the "excellent" medical care they say he has received in Thailand, the family said his medical expenses have become "unmanageable."

Gail Ditlof said bringing Hughes home is a priority for her niece, Jillian.

"She is an only child and she's very close to her dad," Ditlof said. "It's so important to her, you can't imagine."

In an emailed statement, Jillian Hughes said she's very thankful for everyone who has helped with the crowdfunding campaign so far.

"My dad spent his entire career saving people and has never hesitated to help someone in need," she said. "Thanks to the wonderful care he is receiving, my dad has been showing improvements and we are excited to be able to bring him home soon."

The campaign has raised around $21,000 since launching five days ago. 

Adam still has hopes that his longtime friend will recover from the rare virus but that he needs to be moved home to be with his family.

"He's a fighter, he's a scrapper - I know that because he got thrown out of a lot of hockey games," said Adam. "That's just the way he was. He'd stand up for his brothers and we're standing up for him."

"We got to get him home. He's got to come home and recover here where the family can be near him and all his buddies and firemen and everything can help him recover."

"We've got to get him back."

Donations can be made at bringbillhome.ca

Bill Hughes

Bill Hughes and his daughter, Jillian. (Supplied)