West Nile Virus survivor shares his story for the first time

BOISE, Idaho - Not a day goes by where Alberta Schroeder doesn't count her blessings.

Her 84-year-old husband Bill Schroeder is lucky to finally reach retirement, and lucky to be alive.

Does he feel lucky?

"Oh yeah! he said. "Well, unlucky that I got it. Lucky that I survived it, yeah sure."

In August of 2004, Bill was hunting in Oregon's North Fork John Day Wilderness.

The Boise attorney was working an EPA water case through his Vale, Ore. office, when Mother Nature tipped the scales.

"I paid no attention to the fact that there were mosquitoes and I didn't have any mosquito lotion or that sort," he said.

Through August, Bill battled severe flu-like symptoms.

By September, he was incoherent and hospitalized.

His rare condition baffled the medical world.

"And then these nurses, they all start coming in, in all yellow and these hats on and all that kind of stuff," he said. "And I was pretty apprehensive about that."

For Alberta, keeping a journal was her only prayer of hope.

"The most frightening thing was when he didn't know his name and he didn't know when he was born," Alberta said.

Bill was discharged after three days.

But the mystery continued, until a family friend and doctors suggested the unthinkable: could Bill have this new, unheard of West Nile Virus?

Not only were doctors fighting to save Bill's life, but state epidemiologists were arguing whether Oregon, where Bill contracted the virus, or Idaho, where he lived... could claim his case.

"I was told in the hospital that they couldn't confirm the diagnosis but they suspected it was West Nile Virus," Bill said. "And they had to send the serum out of state to someplace in California."

Bill finally got his answers, when lab results returned by the end of September.

"Certainly, I learned a lot about it afterwards, that you can die from this stuff," he said.

By fall, Bill had recovered and even returned to his law practice.

Today, he's feeling just fine.

"The strain may not have been as strong early on as it apparently is now, and as a consequence, I survived probably and I'm in better shape than some of the other folks that are facing it today," he said.

But Bill's clean bill of health comes with an asterisk.

"I was also told that once you get it, the good news is, you can't get it again," he said. "You build up anti-bodies and develop an immunity. But on the other hand, I was told that I will never be able to donate blood again."

For Alberta, the ordeal has made her thankful.

For Bill, the retired attorney, he offers up his best closing argument.

Has it scared him?

"Oh no! I mean, a mosquito can be anyplace!"