EEE survivor, his family living with a debilitating neurological nightmare

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August 31, 2012, 10:38 pm
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(NECN: Josh Brogadir) - This time of year - you often hear the warnings about harmful mosquitoes.
In fact, there are 33 communities in Massachusetts where mosquitoes have tested positive for EEE.

One man is living proof of the dangers.
He got Eastern Equine Encephalitis two years ago.

His is a survivor's story about how one bite changed every moment of his life.

This is an illness that robs even survivors of their basic life skills, creating a debilitating neurological nightmare for victim and family.

When we tell you about EEE, we typically show you mosquitoes buzzing around, swamp land with traps, warning maps of confirmed locations, even planes ready for takeoff to spray from the air.

We've shown you the sadness of the loss of life - from 5-year-old Adreanna Wing to 80-year-old Marty Newfield.

But what we typically don't see is what happens to survivors, because live or die, if you get EEE, things will never be the same again.

This is what living with Eastern Equine Encephalitis looks like, the brain damage it has caused on Jeff Fuller, of Middleboro, Mass. two years after he was bitten by a mosquito.

"My husband's a big guy and a mosquito took him down. And I think that's the most shocking part of all of this," said Jeff's wife, Maureen Fuller.

Jeff's life changed forever on August 21, 2010.

But it's not just his life.

See these two kids, 10-year-old Ben and 7-year-old Shannon; after two years, they've just now started to see parts of their Dad that they once knew.

"At first he couldn't do anything, but then he got better and better," said his son Ben Fuller.

And his wife Maureen, who has been by her husband's side and for these two years, has had to play nurse, mother, and father.

"It's not easy," she said. "But we have two small kids and every day they get up and they still want breakfast."

We'd like to focus this report on what Jeff Fuller can do, but what he still can't do, cannot be ignored.

For example, he remembers things that happened years ago, but not always what he did this morning.

We asked him what he had for breakfast.

"Cake," he said.

"Cer..." helped Maureen.

"Yeah cereal," Jeff then said.

He can walk, but not all that well. He can talk, but is quite limited in what he's able to say.

With the help of Jenn, his full-time aide, Jeff's re-learning how to read basic words; however, his sense of humor is intact.

"You remember my sister singing to you, right?" Maureen asked.

"Yeah," Jeff said.

"She used to drive you crazy," Maureen said.

"Yeah right," Jeff laughed.

And then, we witnessed something that gave us the chills, something amazing.

His wife brought out an iPad, and this man who has trouble stringing together even a few words, had a full-on duet with Freddie Mercury, recalling all the lyrics, in key, of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.

Two years ago, Jeff Fuller was a healthy 43-year-old.

An avid outdoorsman who had worked as a commercial fisherman, and a product development specialist at Draper Knitting Company in Canton. He was a a healthy, happy, rugged, independent guy who seemed indestructible to himself and his family.

"We always thought, we are two healthy adults. We always worried about the kids or the elderly," Maureen said.

It was at the Maple Park Family campground in East Wareham, Mass. when Jeff first felt sick, with a bad headache. He later drove to his house with his kids, and when his wife came home from working an overnight shift the next day, his fever had spiked to 104.

"He started talking crazy about all this crazy stuff. And I'm like, oh, something's not right. So I said, you've got to get in the car and go to the hospital," Maureen said.     

The first year was coma, hospital, rehab, battles with the insurance company and the state - In a word: uncertainty.

Where was he bitten? The yard? Who could be next? Would Jeff ever recover? And what are the far-reaching effects on their family?

We asked if they go outside in the evenings.

"Never," Maureen said. "Not if I can avoid it. We were at a barbeque the other night and the kids wanted to stay. I was like, I don't think so."

Learning to deal with this new life is only part of this story. Warning the public about what the Fullers know now and wish they had known before, is the other.

People who throw caution to the wind, who don't wear bug spray at dusk, especially in southeastern Massachusetts, may be on the unwelcome, receiving end of a mosquito that flies by.

"And I understand that the chances are very rare. But we don't play the numbers anymore with stuff like that," Maureen said.   

With this past mild winter and early heat, some experts think this could be the worst EEE season yet.
As for Jeff, he goes to day rehab for brain injuries, and he has been getting oxygen therapy which Maureen says is helping.
Though she wants to get a special tank, he can't get a prescription because health officials say he does not have a respiratory problem.

Tags: massachusetts, family , Josh Brogadir, Survivor , Middleboro, EEE, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Jeff Fuller, mosquito borne illness
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