GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Barton Deiters has dedicated his career to telling people’s stories. Now, he’s at the center of his own as he battles West Nile virus.
Six months ago, the News 8 team learned a mosquito bite was responsible for sending their colleague and friend to the hospital. He had developed one of the most serious symptoms the virus can cause: encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain.
In the grueling days since, Deiters has fought to overcome neurological damage that affects his mobility.
“He was fine one day and literally the next day he lost his ability to move, to walk, to speak,” his wife Lorena Deiters shared with News 8. “It was crushing to see that happen and not know if he would survive it, because a lot of people don’t.”
According to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 out of 10 people infected with West Nile never develop symptoms, while 1 in 5 develop a fever and other flu-like symptoms. Only about 1 in 150 West Nile patients develop encephalitis or meningitis (another type of inflammation that affects the central nervous system), and about 1 in 10 of those die.
Barton Deiters underwent a liver transplant in 2012. The medication he continues to take for that makes infections more dangerous.
“I thought that the transplant experience, which was traumatic — he had three surgeries in four days, the transplant didn’t go as planned, so his recovery from that was very difficult — I thought that would be the hardest thing that we’d ever do. This makes that look like a cake walk,” Lorena Deiters said.
Since the Sept. 16 diagnosis, Barton Deiters has had a tracheotomy, feeding tube and was on a ventilator. He was transferred from a hospital in metro Grand Rapids to Ann Arbor and then to Plainwell, all of which was compounded by pandemic-related restrictions that limited his family’s ability to be by his side.
Last month, he was brought to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids. The talented therapists there have been focused on helping him regain his strength and improve his mobility and voice, as well as teaching his family how to aid his recovery once he’s home.
“He’s always put in the effort, which blows me away,” music therapist Peter Muskiewicz told News 8. “I think if my body and brain had been leveled like his has been, I don’t know what my level of effort would be. So just to see his work ethic and determination is so humbling to me.”
That work ethic is no surprise to those who know Deiters. The journalist often started his days checking court records in an effort to find the next big case — a tedious process not many can say they enjoy.
His days look a lot different right now. Though he’s on an uphill battle, his signature sense of humor remains intact.
“He’ll make little jokes and stuff like that, so I know he’s still there,” his daughter Sophie Deiters said. “He’s doing his best and I just want to help him as much as I can. I just want to see him get better.”
Every journalist knows a story must have a defined beginning, middle and end to leave an impression. Deiters is in the middle of his story, but it’s clear he has already left an impression on West Michigan. The well-wishes sent to him and his family are appreciated beyond words.
“Him just knowing that people care is what helps him,” Lorena Deiters said. “From people we don’t even know and that just, it gives me strength. Especially when things were really dark at first and we didn’t know if he’d even survive… I just hope those people continue to lift us up and give us the strength we need to keep going.”
Deiters is scheduled to go home March 10 after six full months in different hospitals.
If you’re able, please consider supporting his ongoing recovery through this GoFundMe account.