West Nile survivor traveled long road to recovery

Photo by Don Benjamin Kevin Parks of Paonia is nearly back to full-functioning after contracting West Nile Virus in 2006. He urges others to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

Two trips to the Delta County Medical Center emergency room, a vaguely remembered stay in the hospital and nearly six years of incremental recovery -- that sums up the logistics of Kevin Parks' bout with West Nile Virus (WNV).

And it's not quite over yet.

Parks, remembers most of his journey, but his wife Jackie fills in the gaps. He thinks he recalls the moment he was bitten by the mosquito that carried the problematic virus. It was August 2006 and he was floating on the Gunnison River fishing for trout in a hot spot. He had applied insect repellent earlier in the day but didn't reapply the protection after rowing and sweating in the summer heat.

He's almost certain that's when he was bitten.

Almost.

"It could just as easily have been in my own backyard."

Whenever and however it happened, the symptoms were painfully apparent. Jackie recalls that her husband had a high temperature and was vomiting uncontrollably which left him weak and severely dehydrated. Then there was the rash.

"It covered his entire torso," she recalls.

The all-encompassing rash and severe flu-like symptoms convinced Jackie that Kevin had WNV and on the couple's first emergency room visit she insisted on a spinal tap to confirm the diagnosis. The procedure was performed but in those days the results could not be analyzed locally and the sample was sent to Salt Lake City.

But before the results were returned, Parks was back in the emergency room again. A phone call to Salt Lake confirmed WNV and he was hospitalized. He doesn't remember much about his time in the hospital but Jackie reports that he was delirious and hallucinating for nearly a week.

Eventually Parks was able to return home and start his long road to recovery which began in 2006, extended to 2012, and in some respects continues to the present. The virus affects a person's neurological and brain functions so there were mobility and communication issues to overcome. Among other things the disease impacts mental acuity and Parks, a second-generation Delta and Paonia State Farm Insurance agent, had to rely on Jackie and his office team of Barbara Maddox and Karen Martin for assistance.

"There were times," he recalled, "when I was only able to work for very limited hours."

When dealing with clients, he had to have an associate sit in with him.

"Sometimes I just couldn't come up with the words I needed," he said.

Despite the challenges, Parks is aware that he is a fortunate survivor. Since 2006 when he contracted the virus the national Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recorded 53 WNV deaths in Colorado. Last year one of the Colorado victims was journalist Ed Marston of Paonia.

The Parks live west of Paonia on the homestead acreage that his ancestors settled in 1899. He was born and raised in Delta, left the area for a time, and returned in 1984 with Jackie, whom he met at Copper Mountain. The couple and their son and daughter lived in Paonia until 1996 when they moved to the homestead property.

During his recovery Kevin and Jackie were active in efforts to mitigate the risks posed by mosquitoes. In 2005, a year before he contracted WNV, Kevin had already partnered with the North Fork Mosquito Abatement District on an experimental mosquito abatement project. Later he served on the district's board. Then in 2010, as Kevin's health improved, the Parks worked with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and several other agencies to rehabilitate portions of their sprawling property. The result was a 42-acre wetland conservation easement which not only restored wildlife habitat but also eliminated stagnant ponds thereby greatly diminishing the mosquito population. The habitat restoration project was the subject of a DCI article published on June 7, 2017 and in a 2010 Back Page article.

These days Kevin is more cautious about his outdoor activities. He wears long sleeves and long pants and repellent, especially in the mornings and evenings when mosquitoes are most active. He urges others to pay attention to the warnings about WNV and take necessary precautions. As for mitigating mosquito breeding sites on one's property, he recommends draining any standing water.

"Draining water not only reduces the nuisance of mosquitoes," he said, "It may take out that one-of-a-hundred that's going to bite you."

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