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West Nile Survivor Says Misdiagnosis Is Common

(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Bud Gillett
Bud is the most veteran reporter at CBS 11 News with 42 years in m...
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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - A new case of West Nile virus in Dallas.  That brings to 10 the number of cases in Dallas County this year.  The infected person lives in the Lakewood area of Dallas and has West Nile Fever,  the more common form of the disease.

Meantime, one of the earliest victims of last year’s epidemic now works for the Tarrant County Health Department.  Lindie Gibbins urges everyone to take the threat of West Nile seriously because of what it did to her.

“It was very devastating,” she told us as she finished an assignment in Tarrant County.

A registered nurse and reservist in the U. S. Navy, Gibbins is now the Disaster Preparedness Nurse Coordinator for the Health Department.   These days she has most of the use of her legs back.  Last July she couldn’t walk at all.

“My right leg didn’t move that well; I had to pick it up and move it everywhere.”

She also developed meningitis, encephalitis, brain lesions and guillain-barre syndrome…all from tiny mosquito bites.  She remembers the day well: June 30, 2012.

“Because I was sitting in my back yard slapping mosquitoes on my legs and wondering if any of them were West Nile Virus mosquitoes, and about two weeks later I got sick.”

As a nurse and a recruiter of nurses for the U.S. Navy at the time, she knew about West Nile and suggested it at her first doctor visit…but she was diagnosed with flu.

“When I first got the original symptoms, they just sent me home with some pain medication,” she remembers, adding, “ I just don’t think they were very ‘pro’ on drawing blood at that time… They didn’t draw the blood on me for a week, and it took a week to get it (results).”

Gibbins eventually got a correct diagnosis through a blood test and another doctor’s a spinal tap.  The Navy sent her to rehab in California from August until late April.  She was so sick she understood why some suffers can simply give up.    “And I could see where people just laying in bed and just pass away because at first I had no sense of taste or smell and I lost 23 lbs. in a week.”

But in California, she was shoulder-to-shoulder with returning Wounded Warriors.  It sharpened her resolve to get healthy and tell her story, because she worries not enough people take the West Nile threat seriously.

“I really don’t think they do, and that’s one reason I feel that more people like me that survived it that don’t look like we have anything wrong with us should be out here talking about it because it’s a very severe thing.”  She adds, “I think we’ve all been blessed to be here longer, because I seriously have been through a lot.”  She hopes to start a support group for wives of wounded servicemen at her church.

But if Gibbins suspected West Nile from the beginning, why was it missed initially?

“It’s a difficult diagnosis,” says Dr. Loren Lasater, the Chief Medical Director of Family Medicine at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth.  “A lot of viruses, whether they’re flu or other viruses similar to West Nile have similar symptoms and presentation.”

Dr. Lasater suggests knowledgeable patients and doctors can help avoid misdiagnosis.  “Come in with your symptoms and discuss if it’s fever or you’re having a strange rash or headache.”

Gibbins thinks it’s good advice for all of us.   “No matter who you are you’re not exempt from getting West Nile Virus because we always think nothing will happen to us, but it can happen to you.”

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