It swooped over their heads, below the stone arches and across the stained glass windows of the cathedral. Some in the congregation stared ahead, actively ignoring the disruptful winged creature. Children laughed and pointed as it flew closer to their parent’s heads, they squealed as it soared between the pews. A dexterous church-goer swung his missal, knocking the creature to the ground. It lay there on its stomach, brown, furry, with little claws at the ends of its wings. Fifteen year-old animal lover, Jeanna Giese, knelt over the bat. Determined to save it, she grabbed the brown creature by its wing and, despite its horrendous screams, took it outside. Under the blinding sunlight the bat grew more agitated, writhing and twisting. It curled up to Jeanna’s finger and bit down, hard. Jeanna gasped and threw the bat up into the trees. Rubbing her aching finger, Jeanna returned to the service and thought nothing more of the bite.
The volleyball was set, hanging in the air at its apex. Jeanna placed her feet and jumped ready to catch the ball at its sweet spot. There was only one problem, she saw two volleyballs. With blurry vision she swung for one and missed. Immediately a sharp pain developed in her shoulder, a sort of uncontrollable spasm. After a couple days with no reprieve, Jeanna’s parents took her to a doctor. He sent her to another doctor. Jeanna’s condition slowly deteriorated while doctor after doctor was unable determine her sickness. It wasn’t meningitis and although she had a fever it wasn’t the flu. Her brain scans were appeared normal despite her now slurred speech. The situation had quickly become grim. Then her parents mentioned the bat incident. Jeanna’s pediatrician, Dr. Dhoneau, became pale as he listened to the story of the bat bite. He walked out of the room and immediately called for a test to determine whether Jeanna Giese had rabies. Rabies is a virus, carried in the saliva, that has a 100% mortality rate in humans if left untreated for over a week. Jeanna had been showing symptoms for over a month.
The rabies virus attaches to the victim’s nervous system at the point of the bite. From there it slowly climbs toward the brain. Before it reaches the brain, rabies can be effectively treated with a vaccine and a brief hospital stay. Once the virus reaches the brain, the chances of survival plummet to almost zero. Patients affected by rabies show extreme aggression, produce infected saliva, and develop a fear of drinking water. The fear of water, or hydrophobia, is a result of the virus telling the brain to keep anything that may dilute the host’s potent saliva away. Jeanna was rushed to the children’s hospital diagnosed with rabies virus. At this stage the normal protocol in 2004 was to either bed the patient until they passed in the hospital or send them home expecting the same result. With Jeanna’s death only several hours away, her new doctor, Rodney Willoughby, suggested to Jeanna’s parents an experiment. He would induce a coma in Jeanna and maintain her vitals through IVs and intensive care hoping that a coma would buy Jeanna’s immune system precious extra time to fight the rabies virus. Her parents agreed to what would soon be called the ‘Milwaukee Protocol.’ The battle was intense. After seven days in a coma, Jeanna was slowly woken. Only able to move her eyes, Dr. Willoughby asked her to look at her mother. Jeanna fixed her gaze directly on her mother’s face. She had survived. In all, Jeanna spent three months in the hospital learning to walk again. Physical therapists trained her to use her arms and legs, and how to speak. Now Jeanna has completely recovered and the ‘Milwaukee Protocol’ has been refined and used in forty other cases. Of those cases, four others have survived. While those numbers may not appear hopeful for those who’ve passed the vaccination stage, the previous alternative was 100% mortality. Jeanna’s case has provided hope and insight into a virus that has plagued mankind for over four-thousand years.