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Months Later, Man Recovers From West Nile

December 23, 2003

BLUE RIDGE, Va. _ Ned Jeter was sitting on the porch of his Blue Ridge farmhouse one Saturday evening in mid-July when he was assaulted by mosquitoes.

During the next two weeks, Jeter experienced flu-like symptoms that only got worse. He was hospitalized July 28 in excruciating pain. A few weeks later, the results of tests in the hospital confirmed that he was Virginia’s first confirmed West Nile virus victim for 2003. The disease attacked his spinal cord and left him paralyzed.

Five months and several long hospital stays later, the pain is gone. Jeter is walking with a slight limp, driving a farm tractor, learning to steady himself while baling hay, and appreciating ``the little things in life.″

He and his fiancee, Kim Holland, postponed their September wedding because of his recuperation and haven’t yet reset a date.

Jeter said he’s progressing about a month or two ahead of doctors’ predictions. But, he hasn’t seen a doctor since late September, when he left on a walker from a Mississippi clinic, where he went after family members discovered it was the top treatment facility for West Nile.

Doctors told him then that he’d be using a walker through Thanksgiving. By exercising and taking physical therapy at the Botetourt Athletic Center two or three times a day, Jeter parked his walker about a month before Thanksgiving.

He used a cane until he misplaced it and started hobbling around. It’s been parked on his bedpost for more than a month.

Jeter, 44, has learned to improvise around the farm, using a ski pole to drive cattle. He’s had his falls and is learning his limitations.

``I tried to run the chain saw, but it jerked and the weight throws me off. I’m not strong enough yet,″ Jeter said.

The day after he got home from the Mississippi hospital, ``I learned quickly that I couldn’t push the clutch down.″ Even now, he sometimes has to lift his legs to the pedals when driving a tractor.

Neither his father, Richard, nor his 22-year-old son, Ned II, have complained about Jeter being a hindrance on the family’s 150-year-old farm.

``It’s embarrassing to have your 86-year-old dad pick you up when you fall,″ Jeter said. But that has happened to him several times because often, ``my legs won’t react fast enough.″

His strength is 60 percent to 70 percent of what it was before he was stricken with West Nile. He said he hopes to gain more energy within the next few months.

``I’ve come to understand that I won’t be 100 percent, but I should have enough strength to bend over and pick squash.″

Jeter said he’s also learned to accept kindness from others. Neighbors, friends and church members have mowed their yard, bought meals, picked squash, helped move cattle, sent cards and just visited.

``It’s a lot of good people in this world, and they are willing to help out,″ Jeter said.

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