ROWLETT (CBS11) – This summer marks five years since Dallas County was at the epicenter of the nation’s worst West Nile Virus outbreak. Almost 400 residents were diagnosed and 20 died, according to Dallas County Health and Human Services. Many of its victims are still struggling with its lingering effects.
85-year-old Ray Fields of Rowlett, grew so ill that his family planned his funeral three times.
“They thought I wasn’t going to make it,” he said.
Fields wasn’t sure he wanted to survive.
“I was just ready to die. It was painful and pretty awful,” he recalls.
The day Fields grew ill he was trimming the shrubs around his home.
“We thought he had a heat stroke,” said Karen Gordon, the oldest of Fields’ six children.
It took weeks for doctors to realize he’d been infected with West Nile.
“I’ve been bitten a million times by mosquitoes. Everyone has,” he said, in an interview with CBS News from his hospital bed in 2012.
At the time, he couldn’t move his legs.
“He was completely out of it,” recalls Gordon. “He never walked again.”
Still in wheelchair, he’s lost his ability to drive, to work and to live at home.
It is a constant reminder to his family of the danger West Nile poses.
Most of the community, they believe, has forgotten.
While 2012 may have set a record, the virus still poses a threat.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports Dallas County had 61 residents diagnosed with West Nile last year, more than any other county in Texas.
Fields is proud of how far he’s come in the last five years, building his upper body strength and learning how to complete most daily tasks in his wheelchair.
It’s not a battle he’d want to fight again.
“I don’t know if I’d make it,” he said.
Fields’ family hopes his story helps remind people to reduce their risk by using bug spray, draining standing water and limiting outdoor activities around dawn and dusk.
Click here for information on West Nile Virus from the CDC.