Important COVID-19 Information Read More
Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

West Nile virus sends Rapid City woman on long road to recovery

January 16, 2018

Debra Gibson poses for a photo with her husband, Mark, before they hit the road to head home from Madonna's Omaha Campus to Rapid City, South Dakota.

“The first time that I walked 50 feet was quite an achievement. I was very happy and it was hard to do. Now I’ve done it several times,” said Debra Gibson.

She fought hard for each of those steps after West Nile virus weakened her muscles so severely that she couldn’t get out of bed or eat regular food on her own.

“It’s been a lot of work trying to regain strength in my legs to be able to walk and in my arms because they don’t work right. My speech was also affected so I’m working on that, trying to get that back. So yeah, it’s been a long road,” said Deb.

The Rapid City, South Dakota, woman doesn’t remember much of the late summer day when she ended up in the hospital.

“I had a headache. I was kind of nauseous, nothing terrible bad, and then apparently I just collapsed on the kitchen floors. It happened really fast.”

Eventually, she arrived at Madonna’s Omaha Campus for rehabilitation focused on rebuilding her strength so she could walk.

“When Deb was first evaluated with physical therapy, overall she was weak from the West Nile. A lot of muscles in her hips and knees were weaker than necessarily those muscles in her ankles,” explained Sarah Smith, a physical therapist.

With a team for physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and recreation therapy, Deb reached her goals.

“It’s been pretty intense. They work you hard but for good reason because it shows results,” said Deb. 

“And somebody like Deb who gave 110 percent every session even though she was tired and we were asking her to do crazy things. When she achieves her goals, we achieve our goals as well,” said Sarah.

Related link: West Nile survivor returns home to Rapid City (Black Hills Fox News)

According to the CDC, less than 1 percent of people infect by West Nile virus develop serious symptoms like headache, high fever, neck stiffness, coma or paralysis.

Learn more about rehabilitation for neurological diagnoses here