KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A couple from Allegan County hopes their experience with a rare and deadly mosquito-borne illness serves as a lesson for others.
Richard Force was rushed to the emergency room Aug. 30 after a few weeks of flu-like symptoms. It was another two weeks of testing, memory loss and partial paralysis before he was diagnosed with Eastern equine encephalitis.
“They started leaning towards the West Nile virus,” his wife Kelly Force explained to 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday. “So we kept thinking it’s the West Nile virus, we know where we’re going now. But it came back negative.”
Richard Force’s EEE diagnosis is the first confirmed case in Michigan since 2016. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the illness has a 33 percent fatality rate, making it one of the most dangerous illnesses that can be contracted via a mosquito bite.
“I’ve been married to him 28 years. I’ve seen him go through a lot of being sick and stuff, but this here was like I’m losing him,” Kelly Force said.
Despite the odds, her husband has already made great strides in his recovery and is now in a Kalamazoo rehabilitation facility. The facility cited federal health privacy laws when 24 Hour News 8 requested access to Force’s room for the interview, so instead the couple met with 24 Hour News 8 off-site Wednesday afternoon.
The Forces spoke highly of the staff working with him.
“They have me working a lot here, have me doing that motions,” Richard Force explained as he lifted his right arm above his head. “I’m in a wheelchair. I can’t walk great yet. Apparently I had a major stroke in the process of all of this, so I still have a long way to go — probably another nine months to a year.”
His speech is somewhat difficult to understand, but both the Forces are committed to his recovery. They also hope the scary diagnosis will remind others to be careful.
“We want him to be able to come home and make a full recovery at home,” Kelly Force said. “Use the bug sprays. All it took was one mosquito and if one person can get it, another person can get it and maybe the next person won’t survive.”
The Forces are working with an advocate to navigate the insurance process. As of now, Richard Force’s medical bills amount to $350,000 and will continue to climb. They’re looking into setting up a GoFundMe page, but did not have one created as of Wednesday evening.