Insect bite changes Wakonda farmer’s life

Insect bite changes Wakonda farmer's life Don Lyso of Wakonda is recovering from West Nile virus, a disease that has changed his life.

by Mark Francis

A mosquito changed Don Lyso's life.

The rural Wakonda farmer can't do the things that he once took for granted. He raised cows and planted soybeans, corn and alfalfa on his nearly 1,000 acre farm. It was the only way of life he knew. It was the only way he made a living.

Last summer however, a simple leap over the fence or a walk from the driveway to his doorstep took him 20 minutes to do.

A week after working on a fence around late June of 2003, he noticed he wasn't feeling well. The fence was between the planting soil and a patch of reeds, and just beyond the fence the land lies underwater.

The mosquitoes that swirled around him and landed on his skin were never a concern to him, said his wife, Janice. The pests often swarmed the area. Therefore, they often went unnoticed.

The last thing he thought would happen to him was to get a life-changing virus from bugs. Cleaning out the bean bin usually "clogged" his nose, and sometimes would give him flu-like symptoms, he said. This time, though, the symptoms wouldn't go away.

On July 7, he was taken to the hospital where he was tested and released. Soon after, he was taken to a hospital in Sioux Falls where doctors diagnosed him with meningoencephalitis, a symptom of the West Nile virus that affects the nervous system.

"They don't know what caused it," Lyso said. "They only know that it is somewhere between my head and feet."

The West Nile virus swept through South Dakota last year and left 14 deaths and 1,041 cases in its wake. Clay County was one of the hardest hit. Lyso, 55, and Virgil Christensen, 89, were two persons from rural Wakonda, which is in Clay County, who got the infection. Christensen died on Aug. 22.

"It was a bad ordeal because he was in really good health for being as old as he was," Janice Lyso said.

There's a significant contrast between last year and this year. According to Dr.�Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist for the S.D. Department of Health, there have been 46 West Nile Virus disease cases and three blood donor detections reported in�the state�during the 2004 transmission season.�

There has been one death this year attributed to West Nile. The virus has been detected in 38 (58 percent) of the state's 66 counties.��

Eleven percent of�South Dakota's human cases have been diagnosed with neuroinvasive disease and 89 percent with WNV fever. Seventy-two percent of cases are male and 28 percent female.� Ninety-one percent of cases are white, seven percent Native American, and two percent other races. The median age of cases is 41 years with an age range from�9�to 77 years.

Dan Lyso said he feels weak at times, but overall, his endurance has picked up in the year since he's contracted the virus.

"The doctors said what you have in a year is what you're going to have for the rest of your life," he said. Janice Lyso said her husband began physical therapy after he got out of the hospital but the insurance ran out.

"The wellness center had a program (called vitality) that he used until the program ended," she said, "and then he started going on his own."

Lyso said his leg is stronger and he now uses only one cane to get around instead of the two he started out with. The gears and pedals of his tractors and combines were extended to accommodate his leg, and his family modified a planter so he could continue to do his work.

Lyso said with a laugh that his family bought a four-wheeler that he can drive around the grounds, and sometimes they wished they hadn't done it.

"Now he can check in on us while we are out there working," Janice said with a laugh.

His children, wife and son-in-law often help Lyso with his chores.

While his endurance and strength have improved, Lyso said that his short-term memory was highly affected by the virus and still gives him problems.

"It's like running an old slow computer. My mind is ready to go but the words aren't coming," he said.

He said that he can tell someone which tools to use, but then wonder what is being worked on.

Lyso said now that he has been infected with West Nile virus, he is supposedly immune to the disease. According to the Health Canada Web site, a person can be immune to the virus after being infected. However, the report said, that depends on an individual's overall health and the fight against the virus decreases with age.

The Lysos said that they were like everyone else when they heard about the arrival of West Nile. They ignored the warnings � now they issue them.

Lyso said that although he is sick, he has learned from the experience. He and and his wife said that he no longer is a perfectionist. They joked that he doesn't care if the planting rows are perfectly straight anymore.

"Just get them done is all I say now," Lyso said.

Lyso has lived in Wakonda all his life except for the four years he and his wife lived in Maine because he was in the military. He laughed as he said that his parents moved to the area in 1944 "and they were the new people."

"This is the only kind of life I know," Lyso said. "I don't know anything else. I can't even keep the VCR from flashing 12 o'clock, but I do have one good leg to bounce my grandchildren on."

Mark Francis, Creek, Choctaw and Chickasaw, and Jason McKibben, Chippewa, are students in the Freedom Forum's American Indian Journalism Institute. Francis attends East Central University and McKibben attends the New England School of Photography.

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