Ken Klomhaus never got a good look at his attacker.
The Sun City West resident didn’t notice when a mosquito bit him during a trip to Illinois in August 2010.
“We were at an outside gathering, and there were a lot of mosquitoes around,” Klomhaus said. “Based on the incubation period, that’s where we think it happened.”
What happened to Klomhaus turned a summer trip in the family motor home into a yearlong battle to stay alive and a continuing battle to complete a full recovery — all because of a mosquito bite.
Klomhaus’ attacker carried the West Nile virus, which typically produces three types of reactions in humans, based on information from the Centers for Disease Control.
Approximately 80 percent of infected people will never show any symptoms. They never get sick and are probably unaware they were bitten.
Nearly 20 percent display flulike symptoms, often referred to as West Nile Fever. Most recover in a matter of days while some may take weeks to rebound.
Unfortunately, Klomhaus fell into the third and most dangerous category, a group who become deathly ill after initially displaying flulike symptoms. The virus attacks the central nervous system and causes a range of problems, from encephalitis to complete respiratory collapse.
“I thought that something was wrong because Ken was acting irritable, something he’d never done in 52 years of marriage,” said Darr Lynn Klomhaus, Ken’s wife. “I went to visit our son, who lives nearby, and when I came back to the motor home, Ken was in full-blown chills.”
After wrapping her husband in a blanket and consulting with her son, she decided to take him to a hospital in Peoria, Ill.
By the next morning, Klomhaus had gone into a coma.
While hospital officials continued to run the gamut of tests, Darr Lynn Klomhaus became more convinced her husband had contracted the most serious form of West Nile Virus.
“From what I read, he seemed to have the symptoms — irritability, his head was sensitive to touch, and he had a rash,”
Klomhaus showed little improvement during his 10-day stay and was airlifted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Thirteen days after his initial symptoms, doctors at the Mayo Clinic diagnosed Klomhaus with the worst form of West Nile.
That proved to be the good news, finally receiving confirmation of what he was up against.
The bad news was there is no antidote to cure the virus.
The hospital placed Klomhaus on a ventilator, administered antibiotics and fed him intravenously.
Klomhaus and her three sons watched and waited as Ken struggled in silence to stay alive.
“The doctors told me that one thing that worked in my favor was that I have always been in good physical condition,” said Klomhaus, a retired accountant. “I’ve never had a weight problem.”
The first sign of improvement occurred when Klomhaus moved his right big toe.
“That happened on the third day (in Mayo),” Darr Lynn Klomhaus said. “My sons and I went out to have a beer to celebrate.”
Klomhaus spent two months at Mayo, then was flown to Grandview Care Center in Sun City West in November to continue his rehabilitation.
The flight from Minnesota to Phoenix provided a glimpse at how far Klomhaus had come in his rehabilitation and how much work remained for the Sun City West resident.
Klomhaus could not walk and had been physically unable to eat a single bite of food during his stay in Minnesota.
On the day before his flight, he passed a swallowing test, which meant he could take the plunge and eat solid foods.
“For two months, I hadn’t been able to eat anything and suddenly I’m in the airport in Minneapolis and I start to smell those McDonald’s french fries,” the 73-year-old Klomhaus said. “I got chicken nuggets and french fries. I sat there and ate them like an 8-year-old.”
Klomhaus spent two months at Grandview and finally returned home on Jan. 1.
With house therapy as well as trips to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Klomhaus slowly made the transition from wheelchair to walker to moving without assistance.
Klomhaus worked on rebuilding her husband’s strength after he had dropped from 150 to 112 pounds.
“He’s always been a good eater,” she said. “He eats everything, from pasta, hamburgers and cookies ‘n’ cream ice cream.”
Klomhaus could almost see the finish line in his recovery when he suffered another setback in April.
While munching on a gourmet burger, he suffered a choking incident and ended up in Banner Del E. Webb Hospital.
Doctors diagnosed him with myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune neuromuscular disease, which often causes difficulty swallowing.
Nearly three months after returning home, Klomhaus found himself back in the hospital for 15 days. He now takes daily medication for myasthenia gravis.
“We don’t know if there’s any connection between West Nile and myasthenia gravis,” Klomhaus said. “We may never know.”
Klomhaus still works with a personal trainer and undergoes therapy to restore movement in his right hand.
He’ll need better movement in that right hand to fulfill his goal of returning to play senior softball when the winter-spring season begins in January.
“It’s funny,” Klomhaus said. “When I first started playing, I would often be used as a runner for other players. Now, if I get back out there, they may have to get someone to run for me.”
The Klomhauses remain positive despite the yearlong struggle which tested their physical and emotional mettle.
“We have three great sons and a lot of friends who have been there for us,” Darr Lynn Klomhaus said. “We simply look at this as a detour of life.”