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More than a year and a half after tick bite, Ottawa woman remains nearly paralyzed

It was Labour Day 2021 when MaryAnn Harris informed her husband she was feeling drained and wanted to go upstairs to lie down.

A couple of hours later she was feeling nauseous. She complained of double imaginative and prescient. Her husband, Charles de Lint, instantly referred to as Telehealth Ontario, when the nurse informed them to go straight to the emergency division.

You are reading: More than a year and a half after tick bite, Ottawa woman remains nearly paralyzed

In a single day she bought encephalitis, a swelling of her mind. By the following morning, MarryAnn was within the ICU on life assist, respiration with a ventilator.

“They didn’t know what was flawed,” mentioned Charles, a preferred writer of fantasy novels, a three-time Aurora Award winner, and a member of Canada’s Science Fiction Writers Corridor of Fame. “They assumed it was a virus of some type. It appeared like they’d 70 little machines feeding her completely different sorts of antibiotics.”

In the present day, greater than a 12 months and a half after falling in poor health, MaryAnn hasn’t been again dwelling. She nonetheless breathes with a ventilator and stays practically paralyzed.

The perpetrator? A tick chew that transmitted the uncommon however more and more frequent Powassan virus, a doubtlessly lethal pathogen that brought on encephalitis.

“We have been by no means conscious of the chew. We by no means even noticed the tick,” Charles mentioned. MaryAnn fell in poor health in the course of the lockdown and the couple hadn’t travelled wherever.

They determine she picked up the tick chew both within the yard of their Alta Vista space dwelling or throughout one in every of their frequent walks across the neighborhood gardens in Nice Park. And it’s hardly the one query that may by no means be answered.

“If she was going to get sick,” Charles asks, “why did it must be one thing so uncommon?”

Powassan virus was first recognized in 1958 when it contaminated and killed a younger boy in Powassan, Ont., on the outskirts of North Bay, 200 km northwest of Ottawa. Till 1998, there had been solely 27 instances in all of North America. Since then, the numbers have been rising: 5-10 instances a 12 months within the U.S. from 2010 to 2015; and 25-30 a 12 months since. Since 2017, there have been 21 instances in Canada. Most infections happen within the northeastern U.S., Jap Canada and the Nice Lakes area.

In 2019, North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan died of Powassan virus a number of years after being bitten by a tick.

The virus is normally transmitted by Ixodes scapularis, generally often known as the deer or black-legged tick, the identical vector for Lyme illness. Whereas it takes 24 to 48 hours for a tick to switch the micro organism that causes Lyme illness to its human host, an individual may be contaminated with Powassan virus in as little as quarter-hour after the tick attaches.

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Powassan signs seem between one and 5 weeks later. Generally, the particular person doesn’t even know they’re contaminated, passing it off as a light flu. However for an unlucky few, the illness may be extreme. About half develop encephalitis or meningitis, resulting in lifelong neurological problems.

“There’s been a gradual and regular improve within the variety of instances reported,” mentioned Saravanan Thangamani, director of the Middle for Vector-Born Illnesses on the State College of New York in Syracuse. “It is a uncommon virus. Nonetheless, it’s a harmful virus. It may be deadly and those who survive can have long-term neurological penalties for the remainder of their lives.”

MaryAnn Harris, 70, has been in hospital for a year and a half, partially paralyzed by Powassan virus, which she got from a tick bite in Ottawa.
MaryAnn Harris, 70, has been in hospital for a 12 months and a half, partially paralyzed by Powassan virus, which she bought from a tick chew in Ottawa.PHOTO COURTESY OF HARRIS FAMILY / POSTMEDIA

MaryAnn’s signs have been traditional Powassan: fever, complications, vomiting, weak point, tremors, seizures and paralysis.

The illness is deadly in 10-15 per cent of instances. There is no such thing as a treatment, neither is there a longtime remedy past regular recuperative remedy.

Nonetheless, Charles doesn’t dwell on the illness or how MaryAnn caught it. He’s centered on the highway forward.

“Okay. She bought bit by a tick. She has Powassan. She bought encephalitis,” he mentioned. “For me, I’m extra serious about what’s taking place now, not what occurred earlier than.”

MaryAnn’s restoration now will depend on physiotherapy, however that’s been hampered by fluids that construct up and consistently must be suctioned out of her throat. Even earlier than she bought Powassan virus, she had immune issues and suffered from a build-up of fluids.

“It’s consistently in her throat and esophagus. She’s caught on a ventilator and he or she’s consistently in want of being suctioned,” Charles mentioned. “It’s an exhausting course of so we’re not making an entire lot of headway with different stuff. We do workouts daily and he or she’s actually good about it. Even when she’s exhausted she’ll nonetheless do it. But it surely’s simply not going very quick due to these secretions.”

The couple — Charles is 71 and MaryAnn is 70 — have been collectively for 47 years and married for 42. With their guitar and banjo, they’re well-known in Ottawa’s people and bluegrass music scene.

MaryAnn Harris, with her husband Charles de Lint, is unable to move herself after a tick bite transmitted the rare but increasingly common Powassan virus.
MaryAnn Harris, along with her husband Charles de Lint, is unable to maneuver herself after a tick chew transmitted the uncommon however more and more frequent Powassan virus.PHOTO COURTESY OF HARRIS FAMILY / POSTMEDIA

Charles’s novels, lots of them set within the fantasy metropolis of Newford, have a worldwide following. MaryAnn is his enterprise supervisor, editor and illustrator. Her sickness has left Charles with little time to write down since he now spends 5 hours a day at Saint-Vincent Hospital, six days every week. He pays for a caregiver on the seventh.

Mates, household and followers have rallied across the couple. Musicians have visited the hospital to play for MaryAnn. A GoFundMe began to assist pay for the numerous bills they now face has topped $90,000. Followers have additionally subscribed to Charles’s Patreon account to assist assist his writing.

One fan, Julie Bartel, manages the GoFundMe and posts common updates on MaryAnn’s progress on social media. Bartel, 52, grew up in tiny Orem, Utah, and as a teen immersed herself in Charles’s fantasy novels.

“There was nothing in Orem however apple orchards and Mormons. You couldn’t even purchase a espresso,” she mentioned.

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“I learn Charles’s books throughout highschool. It’s not an exaggeration to say that they have been a lifeline for me. That theme of estrangement — of being an outsider.”

Bartel met Charles and MaryAnn at a literary convention in Salt Lake Metropolis twenty years in the past and the fan was a pal. She’s visited them in Ottawa and collectively they’ve taken highway journeys throughout the U.S., guitars and banjos strapped to the roof, Charles dutifully writing on desert mornings.

“We instantly bonded over our mutual love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Bartel jokes.

With MaryAnn in hospital, Bartel has pitched in to assist proofread a few of Charles’s writing. She’s gathering “candy ideas” that followers electronic mail for Charles to share with MaryAnn.

“It’s exhausting being buddies and being so distant. I’m so grateful that I can provide again in a roundabout way,” mentioned Bartel. “At the least she’s in a position to discuss now.”

She describes MaryAnn as “a rock star” who faithfully does her workouts daily, decided to get higher even when her progress has been glacially gradual. She marvels at Charles’s dedication and devotion to MaryAnn’s care.

“They are surely essentially the most fantastic individuals. It’s an incredible love story.”

In the meantime, MaryAnn bides her time in hospital. Charles manages her care, fastidiously defending her from stresses which may set off nervousness. Unable to maneuver herself, she makes use of Siri to do what she will be able to on her iPhone.

“She’s very stoic about it, however it’s actually exhausting,” Charles mentioned. “There’s simply not an entire lot she will be able to do. She will be able to hearken to audiobooks and podcasts, however that’s about all. Her imaginative and prescient will not be doubled anymore, however it’s nonetheless not nice so she will be able to’t learn. She has no actual motion in her limbs, so she will be able to’t function her cellphone or her iPad.

“As useful as these objects are, they aren’t as useful as one would possibly suppose. MaryAnn can use Siri on her cellphone to hearken to music or begin an audiobook, for instance, however she will be able to’t essentially make it cease: Siri can’t hear her when the music is taking part in.”

By way of a pal, the couple was put in contact with one other girl who contracted Powassan virus 4 years earlier than MaryAnn and has largely recovered. It’s a glimmer of hope.

“She’s not totally recovered, however she walks round and he or she’s in a position to backyard. She’s an artist — like MaryAnn — so she will be able to paint once more. She will be able to play her piano once more, a minimum of to a point,” Charles mentioned.

“Finally, our hopes are for a full restoration — to get her shifting and get her again dwelling. With Powassan, there’s so little identified about it, it’s exhausting to know what’s going to occur.”


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