- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2005

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Soon after Jack Raney recovered from the West Nile virus that left him comatose for several days, he began a public information campaign against the disease that stole his job and games of catch with his children.

As summer ushers in another West Nile season, Mr. Raney and a small group of victims have dedicated themselves to grass-roots projects that put a public face on the disease and pressure health officials to do more to prevent its spread.

“I’m all for talking about it because it’s a lonely disease,” said Mr. Raney, 47, who had to quit his job as a bricklayer after suffering from depression and memory loss.

Mr. Raney has lobbied Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for more funding to fight West Nile and helped public health officials promote a speedy new way to test infected birds, which can transmit the virus to mosquitoes that infect people.

Mitch Coffman, of Lafayette, La., was a black belt in tae kwon do and motorcycle enthusiast when he contracted West Nile in 2002. Mr. Coffman can’t do either anymore because of the damage the virus did to his body.

He has started a nonprofit called the West Nile Virus Survivors Foundation, which includes a Web site — www.westnilesurvivor.com — with information about the illness, the latest newspaper clippings and stories about other survivors.

Mr. Coffman, 40, was a month shy of finishing graduate school when he became ill. During his recovery, he realized that not all survivors receive the kind of family support he did.

“I don’t want to be anybody’s hero,” he said. “I just want to let people know that there’s a way to survive West Nile.”

West Nile has marched steadily westward since first attacking New York in 1999, killing 684 persons and infecting more than 16,000. California bore the brunt last year with more than 800 infections and 28 deaths.

Although it is difficult to predict how severe this season might be, some public health officials fear that an unusually wet winter in parts of the West could cause a bloom of mosquitoes, potentially fueling another outbreak. Most West Nile infections are mild, but severe cases can cause paralysis and swelling of the brain.

Mr. Raney, who contracted West Nile last summer, does not consider himself politically active. But he went to Sacramento in March to ask for $300 million in West Nile funding. Mr. Schwarzenegger has proposed spending $12 million in the coming fiscal year for mosquito control projects; local agencies already spend about $90 million annually to combat the disease.

In April, Mr. Raney appeared with health officials from a mosquito control agency to promote an instant test for analyzing infected birds.

Recently, he told doctors at the hospital that treated him that he would like to counsel West Nile patients and their families during their ordeal. The hospital has not had any cases yet this year, but a spokeswoman said they will take Mr. Raney up on his offer.

“I’m willing do whatever I have to do, go wherever I have to go, to get the message out,” Mr. Raney said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide