Douglas student diagnosed with West Nile Virus

GARDNERVILLE - At age 17, Jessica Forst should be having the time of her life.

As a Douglas High School senior, her plans this year included looking ahead to graduation with friends she's known since kindergarten.

Instead, Jessica lies curled up on a leather loveseat in her family's Chambers Field home.

Too weak to brush her shoulder-length strawberry-blonde hair, Jessica can't walk to her bedroom unattended or take a shower on her own.

Food makes her nauseated and body aches are so intense she stopped sleeping in her bed, preferring to catnap on the couch.

Rather than celebrating senior class milestones or camping with her family, Jessica has spent the past few months battling a baffling series of illnesses including spinal meningitis.

On Tuesday, Jessica got an additional diagnosis that might put things in perspective.

She has West Nile virus, one of the three human cases in Douglas County.

"It was almost a relief," her father, Jim Forst, said Wednesday.

Jessica's problems began after she had her wisdom teeth extracted in July. She developed osteomyelitis that has required surgery.

"My mouth was just full of bacteria," she said.

The infection was accompanied by swelling and intense pain that doctors fought with antibiotics and painkillers that made her sick.

She lost her appetite and 11 pounds. A teaspoon of applesauce fills her up.

With the West Nile Virus diagnosis, Jessica and her family believe things are looking up.

"We suspect now that her immune system was overloaded," Jim Forst said.

Jessica said she has no clue where the disease-bearing mosquito came from.

"I never get bit by mosquitoes," she said. "Who could think this little mosquito could cause all this trouble?"

Her parents say doctors aren't sure whether to tie the bone infection to the West Nile virus, but the spinal meningitis is a definite symptom.

On Sept. 24 Jessica had a stiff neck and a raging headache.

The next day, she was in agony.

"It was like this big lightbulb went off," Susie Forst said. "I told Jessi to look on the Internet under spinal meningitis and she had all the symptoms."

Once Jessica was officially diagnosed with spinal meningitis, she was quarantined and hospitalized for a week.

The West Nile Virus was diagnosed Tuesday.

"My doctor came out and said, 'You are the most unlucky person,' and told me what it was," Jessica said. "I just laughed at it. I couldn't believe I had it."

Jessica is under orders to rest and recover. There's not much else she can do.

"I'm not able to sleep at night," she said. "My muscles hurt even in my own bed. I leave the television on, and fall asleep on the couch."

Jessica goes to the infusion center at Carson Valley Medical Center every day where liquid and antibiotics are pumped into her frail system.

Every time her mom walks by, she tries to coax Jessica to eat a cracker or take a sip of water.

"Being a nurse is hard," she said. "I'm normally busy, but this is very time consuming."

But Susie Forst is not complaining.

Last year Jessica helped nurse her mother through breast cancer.

"She was my mom," Susie said. "She drove me everywhere and took care of me. Now it's my turn."

The Forsts said friends and neighbors have offered unflagging support.

The daughter of one of Susie Forst's co-workers at the Hairport set up a bank account to help with expenses associated with Jessica's treatment.

Some medical bills are covered by insurance and the Forsts are preparing to tackle the rest.

"We've had unbelievable support," Susie Forst said. "Somebody takes her to the infusion center if I can't. People are bringing over meals.

"If it wasn't for everybody's prayers and our faith in God, we couldn't make it through," she said. "Even the nurses at the hospital prayed for us."

Jim Forst said he and his wife have been grateful for the quality of care Jessica has received.

"I've watched the doctors and nurses. Day in and day out, they have to do all these things and they treat Jessica like she's their only patient," he said.

Some days, Jessica's fragile condition gives way to tears of frustration.

"She wants to know, 'Why me, Mom?'" Susie Forst said. "I don't know why she's had to suffer so much."

Jessica tries to keep up with her friends by e-mail and text messaging, but some days even that is too much effort.

"When they come over to visit, I usually fall asleep," she said.

Jessica said her illness has led her to think about becoming a nurse.

"I've been treated so awesome," she said. "It's just because of the good care and how people treated me. I like to help people out."

Jessica isn't thinking too much about the schoolwork that lies ahead. She said it's difficult even to try to read, but she still has concerns.

"I want to graduate with my class," she said. "I can't wait to go back to school and see all my friends."

- Contact reporter Sheila Gardner at or 782-5121, ext. 214.


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