Bob Lotane Recovering from West Nile Infection
By Jennifer Portman, News Director | 4:50 p.m. EDT October 21, 2014
Bob Lotane can move his head again.
The Capital Area Chapter of the Red Cross board chairman has regained the use of his left arm and his right arm is getting stronger. The wave of paralysis that began with an innocuous mosquito bite and moved from his legs up to his neck seems to be receding the same way it came. He's hopeful in time he'll be able to ditch his new electric wheelchair and be able to walk again, too.
"When I came in here I couldn't even lift my head up, it was like a pumpkin on a noodle," Lotane said in a telephone interview this week from his room at The Shepherd Center, a spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta. "They are very pleased with the speed I have recovered. We have to hope it keeps going."
Health officials confirmed last month that Lotane, a vice president at Hill & Knowlton public relations firm, contracted West Nile Virus. His was the second known human case of the illness in the state this year, and the only one in Leon County. He and his wife, Alissa Slade Lotane, suspect he was bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus while in the backyard of his east-central Tallahassee home, maybe doing yard work or sitting by the pool having a glass of wine.
"I haven't had that 'why me' moment, but it is surreal," Lotane said, noting that at Shepherd he sees people in far worse shape than he is. "You've got to suck it up and deal with it. I, at least, am going to be able to go back to work and have a life with Alissa."
Alissa chimed in on the speaker phone: "We are lucky compared to a lot of people."
A different life
The degree to which the illness has ravaged Lotane is unusual. In four out of five cases, a person infected with West Nile Virus has no symptoms, and those who do only experience a mild headache, fever and fatigue. Less than 1 percent of those infected develop the most severe form of the illness, which can cause irreversible neurological damage, paralysis or death.
Symptoms of West Nile Virus illness usually appear within two weeks of a bite, and Lotane's came on with a fury Aug. 14, when he spiked a fever and endured night sweats, followed by a rash. Six days later his legs started failing him. As the paralysis continued up his body, doctors remained flummoxed for weeks. He stayed at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare for five days and was airlifted to UF Health Shands Hospital, where test results finally showed he had contracted West Nile.
At first, Lotane said, the pain was so intense he didn't even notice he was losing the ability to move. But fear set in when one morning, before the diagnosis, he tried to raise his arm and it "didn't work."
"That's when it really began to scare me," he said.
A fitness buff, Lotane has been surprised by the physical toll of the illness. His toned muscles have withered and his tuned nervous and respiratory systems have been sapped. So far, he's lost 26 pounds. At Shepherd, he and Alissa are learning how to adapt to the physical limitations they hope are not permanent. They expect go home on Nov. 13 and continue his rehabilitation in Tallahassee.
"It's still going to be a long road," Bob Lotane said. "Life is going to be different."
'Run for Bob'
The life-altering illness, however, has been accompanied by a daunting amount of good will. The couple has been blown away by the support of friends and family. Lotane said he hasn't been able to open all the get-well cards; he has heard from people he never would have expected.
"It's been incredible," he said.
One way people are showing their support is by running in his honor at Sunday's Robin Lotane Hurricane Run. Bob Lotane has championed the run to benefit the local Red Cross chapter for his late wife, who died of cancer. But this year, his friends and colleagues have banded together through social media to "Run for Bob."
Ann Hudgins, who in the past has served as assistant race director, has picked up the reins.
"Our plan was for me to be race director this year and him help in the background. Thank goodness for his decision last year to bring me on board," said Hudgins, vice president of marketing for Rowe Companies.
"Bob's friends, family, coworkers and anyone that has ever met Bob have been outpouring with support. The first day we opened registration for the race I think every single one of his neighbors signed up," she said. "We have also had many people sign up that have never run a 5K that will be crossing the finish line this weekend as they #RunforBob."
Though Lotane won't be in attendance this year, Hudgins has her fingers crossed that he will be next year.
"We absolutely hope to see him running next year," she added, "and with his willpower and strength to beat this, I truly believe he will be there in person."
By then, Lotane likely will be a crusader for another cause — fighting and preventing mosquito-borne illnesses.
"You do not want to go through what I've gone through. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy," he said. "I'm living proof it can happen to anybody."
Robin Lotane Red Cross Hurricane Run
To register for the 7th Annual 5K Run on Sunday visit active.com/tallahassee-fl/running/races/red-cross-7th-annual-hurricane-run-2014
The race is at Tom Brown Park located off Easterwood Drive. Registration on site will start at 3 p.m. Sunday. A 1-mile fun run starts at 4 p.m. with the 5K starting at 4:30 p.m.
Article originally posted on the Tallahassee Democrat.