Her mother said her symptoms started as a headache.

By Julie Mazziotta
August 30, 2019

A 14-year-old girl is critically ill after contracting a rare mosquito-borne disease.

Savannah DeHart, from Kalamazoo, Michigan, was diagnosed with Eastern Equine Encephalitis, or EEE, a virus spread by mosquitos that causes brain infections. Since her diagnosis on Aug. 16, she has lost her ability to communicate and is on a ventilator in the hospital.

Her mother, Kerri Dooley, said that DeHart’s symptoms started as a headache.

“Friday [the 16th], it got to the point where she didn’t want to move,” Dooley told NBC 8.

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Speaking ten days after DeHart’s diagnosis, Dooley said that her daughter’s brain functions are limited.

“She just kind of lays there for now,” Dooley said. “Her brain is trying to heal itself, and she can’t do anything until that happens. It’s been, probably the worst time of my life. I watched my daughter almost ‘check out’ … it’s the word we’ve been using right now.”

EEE is extremely rare, with an average of just seven cases nationwide each year, primarily in Massachusetts, Florida, New York and North Carolina. Health officials in Massachusetts say that there have been four reported cases in the state so far this year, including that of 59-year-old Laurie Sylvia, who died Sunday. DeHart is the third reported case in Michigan this year, though the family is waiting on additional testing to confirm she has EEE.

The Centers for Disease Control says that people over 50 and under 15 years old are more susceptible to the illness, which abruptly starts to show symptoms after four to ten days. Those infected will develop chills, fever, lethargy and joint pain. In cases where the disease enters the central nervous system, one-third of patients die from EEE, and those who survive are likely to be mentally and physically disabled. There is no vaccine for the disease.

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Dooley said she did not expect the disease to come on so quickly.

“It sucks. It’s a horrible feeling, but I don’t know what I can tell [parents] other than to just watch — be careful, watch where you’re bringing [your kids].”

Dooley set up a Facebook page, called #SavannahStrong, to share news about DeHart’s condition. She wrote Tuesday that her daughter is still struggling to breathe on her own, but that DeHart is in physical therapy, and managed to hold her head up on her own for several minutes, “which to this mama, is huge!”

“I think today was a good day for her and she is still showing us some signs, next up is her being able to protect her air pipe so we can get rid of the ventilator!” Dooley wrote.

“She’s very artistic,” Dooley told NBC 8. “She loves everybody. She’s got a heart of gold. She’s just a happy…a very happy girl. And does not deserve to go through this.”

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