Every day, Bob Matthews fights through the pain that is recovery.
The physical therapy sessions hurt, but they're worth the hope that one day, he'll walk again.
“Therapy is painful, but it has to be because they're stretching those muscles,” he said. “It's nothing that's intentional. It's just something that comes with the territory.”
Matthews, 77, of Oklahoma City, contracted West Nile virus from a mosquito bite this summer and has spent the past seven months recovering.
Risk is higher
for older adults
This year, Oklahoma experienced its worst West Nile virus season since the virus entered the U.S. in 1999. A total of 177 cases and 13 deaths were reported this year, according to the state Health Department. The state's previous record was 107 cases and nine deaths in 2007.
West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne illness. Most people who contract the virus have a mild illness or do not get sick at all.
People older than 50 have the highest chance of contracting the virus and developing serious disease, including severe muscle weakness, mental confusion, tremors, muscle paralysis, or convulsions and coma, according to the state Health Department.
About one in 150 people infected with West Nile virus develops severe illness, according to the CDC.
This is what happened to Matthews. The retired Heritage Hall principal has been partially paralyzed and undergoing daily physical therapy to recover.
Throughout his recovery, his wife of 46 years, B.J. Matthews, has been at his side.
There were points in the beginning where B.J. Matthews wasn't sure her husband was going to make it. During his second week in the hospital, Bob Matthews couldn't move or open his eyes.
But he pulled through and has continued to work at getting better. He can move the fingers on his right hand, which he couldn't do a few months ago, and he can stand with help from his physical therapist.
His original goal was to be walking by Christmas, but recovery with West Nile virus is not predictable or consistent. Relatively little is known about the long-term prognosis for patients with clinical West Nile virus infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We try every day to put more weight on both legs,” Bob Matthews said. “It's just a matter of time when the legs decide they're going to take what we put on them.”
On Tuesday, the Matthews will spend Christmas with their daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons at the rehabilitation hospital that serves as Bob Matthews' temporary home.
The Matthews don't ask for help but simply for prayers.
The couple's love for each other and their belief that Bob Matthews will get better continues, despite several hard months spent in various hospitals.
“Our faith is still there,” B.J. Matthews said.
“Definitely,” Bob Matthews added.