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West Nile Virus victim discusses road to recovery

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POSTED: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - 8:53pm

UPDATED: Thursday, July 25, 2013 - 2:40pm

West Nile Virus is making its return to the Borderland. It's a devastating disease that can change a life in an instant, as an El Paso woman recently found out. Margo Litton says she used to be a picture of perfect health. She worked in the food services department at Del Sol Medical Center, and in 17 years says she never called out sick. However, that all changed one day last fall.

The 59 year-old woke up one night horribly sick to her stomach. Her grandson found her lying on her bathroom floor.

"And then all of a sudden i couldn't move. I couldn't get up off the bathroom floor. Pretty much everything went quick from there. Then i quit breathing on the way to the hospital," she said.

Within 24 hours Margo had slipped into a catatonic state. Her daughter was baffled by what was happening, scared that at any hour she could lose her mom.

"Her legs all the way up to her knees were black. They were black because they had no circulation. Her blood pressure was down to 56 over 30. I mean, she was gone," sand Andra Litton, Margo's daughter.

Then the seizures started. Margo spent two months in the hospital, fighting for her life. After three weeks, Margo was tested for West Nile Virus and the results came back positive. But the strain wasn't active, so Margo will never know for sure if that's what actually caused her illness. Dr. Brandy Yeary isn't Margo's doctor, but she's familiar with the virus. She says West Nile can be difficult to diagnose.

"It's possible she did get infected previously. There was a prior infection, and then she just developed the symptoms much later," said Dr. Brandy Yeary with Sierra Providence Medical Partners.

Like many West Nile patients who experience severe symptoms, Margo had a weakened immune system because of medication she was taking. But unlike many West Nile victims, the onset of severe symptoms was almost immediate, and didn't initially match those of a typical patient. One of Margo's doctors is convinced she had it, another equally convinced she didn't.

"Ultimately I'll never know because they didn't test her when she first went into the hospital," said Andra Litton.

In Margo's case the warning signs were there. Just days before Margo got sick, Andra had called Vector Control, worried about the mosquitoes swarming their central El Paso home, and Vector Control receives dozens of calls like that every year. The city sprays ponds and ditches year round trying to wipe out mosquitoes before the larvae hatches, but in El Paso that's an almost impossible task.

"We treat for mosquitoes all year here in El Paso, but it doesn't get real cold here so there's always mosquitoes breeding," said Danny Soto with Vector Control.

That's one of the reasons El Paso sees more West Nile cases than some parts of the country. Margo will never fully recover from her illness. She recently suffered a stroke and she now has trouble reading and even watching television. Her peripheral vision is almost completely gone. She also says she had to relearn how to walk. It's also changed the lives of her family.

"I've had to completely reroute my life for her. I've had to take over the finances because she writes checks she doesn't remember writing, all sorts of memory issues. Unfortunately she's lost control of a lot of aspects of her life," said Andra Litton.

Two lives forever changed, possibly by a tiny, tiny insect.

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