Widow talks about life with West Nile, death

By Owen Conflenti - Anchor

HOUSTON - Of all the complaints of the summer -- the haze, the heat, the humidity -- nothing has people talking more this year than the West Nile virus outbreak that has killed almost 30 people in Texas. 

For one family, five years ago the signs were there -- a summer evening spent outside, a dead Blue Jay found in a neighbor's yard, a seemingly healthy man suddenly got sick.  But back then those pieces of information didn't immediately add up to much. Today, we know they point to a killer virus.

The West Nile virus scare is something we've grown to accept. But for June Metcalf, it's never far from her mind, no matter what time of year it is. In the summer of 2007, during National Night Out, neighbors gathered in the Metcalfs' front yard with lemonade and cookies.  A mosquito, carrying West Nile virus, bit Roy Metcalf. Within days, the 83-year-old man was in the hospital. His health crumbled so fast doctors had trouble explaining it first. 

"The mosquito bit him on Tuesday. Friday (he was) running a fever. Friday night (he had an) extreme fever. By that Monday he was on a ventilator," June Metcalf said.

A chance encounter with an infectious disease specialist finally provided the Metcalfs with a diagnosis. It was West Nile virus. From there, Roy Metcalf went from hospital to hospital, but the problems persisted. He was essentially paralyzed. The avid reader couldn't even focus on the pages of a book. 

"His eye muscles wouldn't work. He couldn't lift his arms or legs, sit up or turn over in bed," said June Metcalf. 

Problems with his facial muscles made it hard for Roy Metcalf to talk. But even in the hospital, June Metcalf said Roy Metcalf maintained his sense of humor. 

"He was quite a cut up,"said June Metcalf, "(He) looked up at me and said, 'I must be real sick all my kids are here!'"

Surrounded by family and friends, Roy Metcalf fought hard to get home.  A year after the initial bite, the community celebrated his homecoming. At the time, the family couldn't have been more grateful. Roy Metcalf, though in a wheelchair, had a big smile on his face. It had been a long and treacherous year since he slept under his own roof.

But that long-awaited homecoming was short-lived. Within a week, the West Nile virus that had been eating away at Roy Metcalf's body finally took his life.

Now, five years later, as we continue to learn about the virus -- how it survives, how it spreads, June Metcalf's advice to the rest of us is simple: "Take it seriously and use precautions ... you never know." 

And believe her when she says you don't want to find out.

Through Roy Metcalf's experience, June Metcalf said she learned two important things. Getting an infectious disease specialist to look at your case is the key to having the best chance at properly diagnosing and treating West Nile virus. Also, she noticed improvement in Roy Metcalf when therapists worked on his mobility through physical therapy and she believes that would help in the recovery process.

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