Brandon man fights to regain life stolen by West Nile virus
One mosquito bite changed the life of a Brandon man who is now urging people to be vigilant when it comes to protecting themselves from the tiny blood suckers.
"Now I don't even want to go outside. I get to the front door and I'm just scared; little wee bug and I'm just scared, shaking in my boots," said John Burnett.
The 53-year-old man who once loved to bike, fish and hunt has spent the past 11 months trapped in his body, tied to an IV pole, bound to a wheelchair and fed by a tube.
It was August when Burnett was bit and contracted West Nile virus, which left him paralyzed. Only recently has he regained his ability to talk.
"You could tell he was in there. You could tell he was awake but he had no control over not even his eyes," said Burnett's sister, Barb Doherty, a nurse who has been looking after him, giving him spoonfuls of ice to cool his mouth.
Collapsed on balcony
It was Doherty who found her brother collapsed on his apartment balcony after the virus took hold. Recalling that day still brings Burnett to tears.
"Last thing I remember, I had some company sitting on the patio," he said. "I sent them home [because] I wasn't feeling well and then I called my sister and that's the last thing I remember."
He was put into a medically-induced coma for weeks, and for six months he relied on a ventilator to breathe.
"I was always active, up at 6:30 in the morning, going till dark," Burnett said.
In addition to his outdoor sporting activities, he loved fixing things, doing carpentry and mechanics.
Now his day to day experience consists of waking up and watching a lot of TV.
"I don't eat. I'm fed by a bag so I don't have meal time to look forward to. I don't get to go out, I don't get to go anywhere. I'm tied to this IV pole," he said.
"I'm waiting for physiotherapy or waiting to die, whichever comes first. There isn't a lot of light at the end of my tunnel."
But he's come along way, said Doherty. Burnett's recently regained his ability to talk, and some movement is returning to his hands. He squeezes a small toy frog to exercise his hands and fingers.
Take it seriously
Burnett and Doherty both admit they didn't use to take the proper precautions before going outside, and they want to urge others to take West Nile seriously.
"It's life changing," says Doherty.
When it comes to spraying, Burnett said people and politicians debate it every year, weighing the dollar but "they're not looking at the whole picture."
"When we're making decisions about spraying or not spraying and the risk to the public people really need to hear stories like John's and realize it can be serious," said Doherty.
Burnett wants to remind people to take precautions: wear repellant, and cover up.
The province says this is the time of year West Nile ramps up. Although only 1 in 100 people exposed to the virus may develop symptoms, Burnett urges people to wear repellent because you’re taking a big chance.
One bite could change your life, he said.