Brand & Martínez

Brand & Martínez is a daily, two-hour program that looks at news and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by Madeleine Brand & A Martínez

As outbreak spreads, Hantavirus survivor tells his story

by Brand & Martínez

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In this photo from Sunday Oct. 23, 2011, tents are seen in Curry Village in Yosemite National Park, Calif. A man died and a woman became seriously ill after contracting a rare rodent-borne disease that might have been linked to their stay at this popular lodging area in Yosemite National Park, officials said Thursday. Ben Margot/AP

The hantavirus outbreak in Yosemite National Park has claimed another life. The Associated Press reports that a West Virginian is the third person to die so far from a rodent-borne illness linked to some tent cabins at Yosemite National Park that has now stricken eight people in all, health officials said Thursday.

Park officials say more than 10,000 visitors could have been exposed to the disease.

But what is it like to experience the rodent-based infection?

A Martínez speaks to Marketplace's Ethan Lindsey, who suffered from the virus two years ago. He spent two days in a medically induced coma.

On how he was infected with the virus:
"It's carried in deer mice, or in their feces, and so you kick it up it has to get in the air, and then you have to inhale it, and the only way that you're going to effectively inhale enough is if you're in an enclosed space. I was a reporter in rural Oregon at the time and it was either on an assignment in a cabin out in the woods or something, or I had gone on a trip to Montana, and there are a couple places I might have caught it in Montana."

On how doctor's reacted to his sickness:
"They had to put me in a medically induced coma for a couple of days while they were trying to figure it out. They actually didn't even figure it out until after I came out of the coma, but one of the stories that I had heard was they actually asked my editor back in Oregon, 'hey can you send us a list of all the stories Ethan's done in the past month to see where he could have gotten some disease,' whether it was hantavirus or something else. It was sort of like an episode of 'House.'

On why it was so difficult to diagnose:
"It was the year of swine flu, like 3 years ago, so they thought, oh it's swine flu we'll figure it out. So they tested for that and it wasn't that, and they tested for a couple other flu symptoms and it wasn't that so that my general practitioner sent me home… that night I probably felt the worst I've ever felt in my entire life, and I went to the emergency room basically passed out in the waiting room and within 24 hours they had to put me in a medically induced coma."

On the hantavirus symptoms he experienced:
"I was just feeling out of breath, really tired, a lot of pain, sort of full-body pain… But it didn't feel extraordinary, the only thing that felt extraordinary was once I was in the hospital my blood oxygen level kept dropping, so they put me on a breathing mask and they had to put more breathing apparatuses, then at one point the doctor came in and said, "look, your blood oxygen level is at 60, when it drops to 40 major organs start to fail, and you may not be strong enough to do this so we're thinking we have to put you in a medically induced coma."

How his infection with hantavirus almost ruined his wedding:
"We were a month away from getting married. When I was in a coma there were a couple days where I was getting worse, then sort of the turn happened and it started getting better. She started going to the hospital officials and saying, 'Hey, can I plan the wedding in the chapel here,' because she didn't know if I was going to get out in time, but I got married a month later."

On how lucky he is to be alive:
"That was probably the most incredible. I had just come out of the coma, they had to send my blood to New Mexico, that's where all the hantavirus testing is done. It came back positive, I was probably the 9th or 10th person in Oregon ever to get it, less than half have survived in Oregon. What's funny is the state medical doctor called me and said, 'hey you're one of the unique cases we want to talk to you,' and this was was a source I had called for other stories as a journalist, so it was weird being the subject of the story as opposed to the journalist covering it."

On his recovery:
"You sort of come out, and you're in the hospital and I had been in a bed for two weeks, so I couldn't even walk, I had to go through a whole new physical therapy. They had to help stand me up, I had to re-learn to walk, it didn't take more than a day. Once I got out of the hospital, you don't have the energy to do anything. They said walk for 5 minutes every day, and at 3 minutes I was dead tired. Two weeks go by three weeks go by and you slowly get your strength back."

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