EDWARDSBURG, Mich. (WOOD) — Mosquito-borne Eastern Equine Encephalitis has now killed half of the people reported to have been sickened by it this year in West Michigan.
State health officials confirmed Monday that a fifth victim, a man from Cass County, died from the illness over the weekend. So far 10 people, all from southwest Michigan, have gotten ill from EEE in 2019.
Family members confirmed that Henry Hess, 72, died early Saturday morning at a Chicago-area hospital where he had been getting treatment.
“He was very physically active, very physically fit, and just strong, so strong,” Carrie Hess, Hess’ daughter, told News 8 Monday evening. “And then he got bit by a mosquito. And it took the strong man that we knew and loved and just destroyed his brain.”
Henry Hess became ill in late September and went to the emergency room at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka, Indiana, his family said.
“We asked if it was EEE because we knew it was a thing in southwest Michigan,” Carrie Hess said.
Doctors did a CT scan to check for inflammation on the brain but there was none. Henry Hess declined to allow a test of his spinal fluid for further diagnosis because the positioning for the spinal tap made it difficult for him to breathe, his family told News 8.
He received medication but was sent home, according to his daughters, with doctors telling the family they did not suspect Hess had EEE.
A few days later, things got worse. Henry Hess contacted family members and wanted to go to the emergency room again. A relative called for emergency help. Hess was unresponsive when paramedics got to his home.
The ambulance took him back to St. Joseph Regional Medical Center where his care team later decided that he needed to be sent elsewhere for more advanced treatment. He was taken to Loyola University Medical Center in the Chicago area but never came out of his coma.
Following their father’s wishes to not be kept on artificial life support, Hess’ daughters decided late last week to remove him from the machines. Just before 2 a.m. Saturday, he died.
“I think he would’ve appreciated us letting him go even though it was very difficult,” Carrie Hess said through tears.
Henry Hess was an Army veteran and a retired construction worker who remained active as he aged. He kept heavy equipment including a bulldozer and backhoe on hand and used it to dig his own pond behind his home, his daughters said. The Hess family wonders now if that pond might have attracted mosquitoes and elevated his risk for contracting EEE.
But his loved ones don’t think he would’ve changed a thing.
“There’s no way he would want to give up this pond or this life. … I think he would’ve accepted the chance of living here,” Carrie Hess said. “He hated bug spray. So even if we would’ve said ‘Dad, put on some big spray,’ he wouldn’t have listened to us.”
Carrie Hess said her father had a sense of humor and loved his family.
“I think he would just say to live our lives and enjoy what he left for us, what he created for us,” Carrie Hess said while standing near the pond on her father’s sprawling property.
While their father couldn’t be saved, the Hess family is hopeful that his story might help others in highlighting how serious EEE is.
“I was scared when I started to see the news stories about EEE in this area,” Carrie Hess said. “But I never thought in a million years it would be here.”