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Surviving West Nile Virus Encephalitis

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ROCKVILLE, Md. (WHNT) -- Two years after a West Nile virus diagnosis, Herman "Bubba" Kaplan continues to improve.

He spent nearly three months in the hospital and rehabilitation.

Kaplan's grandson, Brandon Fischer, was WHNT News 19's Robert Richardson partner for several broadcast journalism projects at the University of Maryland-College Park.

Fischer said his grandfather started feeling flu-like symptoms in August 2010.

A few days later, the 84-year-old collapsed in a bedroom at his house near Washington, D.C., and was rushed to a hospital.

Emergency room physicians performed a spinal tap, and determined Kaplan had West Nile Virus.

It progressed to encephalitis which caused his brain to swell, and he spent three and a half weeks in the Intensive Care Unit.

"He was in a stupor, which is a coma with periodic alertness," Fischer said.

"He started waking up a little bit, but couldn't talk, couldn't eat, couldn't walk, had to re-learn everything."

Kaplan spent seven additional weeks in a rehabilitation hospital, regaining his motor skills.

"He's about 90 percent back to the way he was before, which is an absolute miracle.  It's just crazy how well he's recovered," his grandson said.

"The doctors basically wrote him off and said that elderly people who get West Nile encephalitis just do not survive."

Fischer said it is a combination of good fortune, his grandfather's will and determination to rehabilitate, and immediate care.

"We attribute a lot of it to antibiotics," he said.

"They started pumping him full of antibiotics when he was in the ICU.

"Apparently a lot of people that get West Nile encephalitis don't get that kind of treatment, but that's what me and my mom think got him through this whole thing."

It was difficult for the Fischers and Kaplans to see Bubba in rough shape, but Brandon said the hardest part was dealing with insurance companies, Medicare, and AARP in trying to get coverage for the the ICU and rehabilitation hospital.

"It's very important that grandparents--or even just parents--leave a laundry list of things for their kids to do when they get sick because it's very hard sometimes to figure out how to get the medical coverage for some of these treatments," Fischer said.

The family isn't sure where the mosquito bite occurred, but think it was on the patio at Bubba's maryland home.

"His patio has been known to have a lot of mosquitoes, and we used to get bitten up when we'd go over," Fischer said about visits to his grandfather's house.

"He recently had it sprayed because he's so paranoid about it now, which turns out to be the correct kind of reaction with all this going on right now."

Brandon Fischer and Herman Kaplan

Brandon Fischer and Herman Kaplan

Officials say the elderly are more susceptible to encaphilitis than other age groups are.

However, younger people are vulnerable to flu-like symptoms, which can intensify and become fatal.