DALLAS — Up to ten times a day, a crippling sensation consumes Ran Kilpatrick’s body. His eyes close, his muscles tighten and his breathing becomes strained.
“Relax,” cooed his wife, Rebecca, during one recent episode on the couch in their North Dallas apartment.
Three minutes later, the seizure passes and Kilpatrick, 27, composes himself.
“These seizures have this leash on me, and prevent me from doing a lot,” he said.
Kilpatrick often collapses suddenly, sometimes injuring himself. It's a fear that requires near constant attention, his wife said.
“People just don’t understand,” she said. “He looks like a young, handsome, strong, tall man... but he’s not.”
Seizures are among several of the lingering effects of the West Nile virus that Ran Kilpatrick said he contracted 10 years ago, when he was a teenager playing in a creek in West Texas.
“When I got sick I weighed 366 pounds, and a mosquito bite took me out,” he said.
Kilpatrick said the infection eventually caused encephalitis, which damaged his brain and his memory. He has trouble keeping track of the simplest of tasks, and said his condition keeps him from holding a consistent job.
“I basically have to carry the memory of two people,” his wife said.
A hand-written calendar of reminders and appointments near their front door help him sort through the day.
“I’m 27, physically, but mentally, I feel like I’m four,” he explained. “That’s how my brain feels at times.”
Although the old and sick seem to suffer the most from West Nile virus, health officials warn the young and healthy are also at risk of dying or developing serious complications, such as paralysis or seizures.
“There have some cases relatively recently where an individual in their 30s developed a severe case of West Nile,” said Dr. Christopher Perkins, Dallas County’s medical director.
He said nearly one-third of the most serious cases in Dallas this year have involved victims younger than 50 years old. The youngest patient is only eight.
“Normal people can still get West Nile,” said Dr. William Sutker, chief of infectious diseases at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. “It’s much rarer than older people or people with an underlying disease, but it is possible.”
The hospital has treated almost 20 West Nile cases this summer, among the 218 people sickened across North Texas. Six people have died so far in our area.
Authorities point out that a small percentage of people who become infected with the virus develop a serious illness. Most people infected never even realize it, and of those who do get sick, many recover quickly.
“It’s possible to have long-term effects from the disease,” Dr. Sutker said, “but it’s really a very small minority of patients.”
Since the virus is relatively new to the United States — arriving in the late 1990s — doctors don’t fully understand why it targets some.
“It’s not really known why one person gets symptoms and why one person doesn’t,” Sutker said.
Most agree Kilpatrick’s case is the exception. Health directors say very few patients get as sick as Kilpatrick and suffer for as long as he has.
“It’s no joke at all,” Kilpatrick said. “It’s not something to take lightly.”