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Central Texas Man Can't Walk After West Nile Infection

Updated: Monday, September 24 2012, 03:44 PM CDT

It's a virus with no cure and no known treatment -- West Nile.

A month ago, John Schexnayder was healthy and active -- running a successful business and keeping up with projects at home -- like cleaning the family pool, which is exactly what he was doing when a mosquito bit his cheek and changed his life.

"Between that bite and going to the ER it was about three days," said Schexnayder, before adding that, of course, it's nearly impossible to know exactly when or exactly which mosquito may be to blame.

Over the course of three days, Schexnayder's body slowly started shutting down. "I couldn't stand up like I normally could. It was just a strange weakness and my plumbing shut down -- nothing was really working below my waist correctly," said Schexnayder, recalling how his condition slowly deteriorated. "Then my right leg started buckling and almost quitting on me," said Schexnayder and that's when his wife rushed him to the emergency room.

Four days, a spinal tap, several MRI's and dozens of other tests later doctors finally had a diagnosis -- West Nile virus.

"I think what got me was when I asked the Doctor, 'Ok, what do we do?' and he said, 'Well, there's no treatment for it. It's a virus. We just have to let it run its course’," said Faith Schexnayder, John's wife of 20 years. "And he said, 'I'm really sorry -- nobody knows anything about this, and there's really nothing that we can do."

Dr. Everett Heinze is now overseeing John's care at St. David's Rehabilitation Hospital.

"We're working on increasing the strength, balance, safety and all those things that are so important to his eventual recovery -- but there is no cure or treatment specifically directed towards the viremia," said Dr. Heinze, who serves as the Rehab Hospital's Medical Director.

There's no cure for West Nile and currently there's no treatment -- meaning all doctors can do is help patients with their symptoms.

"That's absolutely correct," said Dr. Heinze. "There's no anti-viral agent that we know of that shortens the course of this disease or eradicates the virus."

80 percent of all people infected with the West Nile virus will never know it, because doctors say they don't experience any symptoms. Others have minor reactions referred to as "West Nile fever", similar in many ways to the flu. Less than 1 percent will experience severe neurological problems, like Schexnayder. The father of two hasn't walked on his own since checking-in to the emergency room.

"It results because of infection of the central nervous system -- either the brain or in his case, the spinal cord," said Dr. Heinze. "It's not pollio, but it's like pollio in the sense that it causes paralysis -- or at least weakness."

John's doctors have never treated a case like this-- even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has no help to offer him. But Schexnayder is holding on to a positive outlook and taking recovery one victory at a time.

"My leg's stronger today," said Schexnayder with a laugh, while working with physical therapists during his rehab. "Today's a good day." 

By Mileka LincolnCentral Texas Man Can't Walk After West Nile Infection

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