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HCA Healthcare’s Medical City executive raises awareness of life-threatening virus

Man lying in hospital bed with tubes and monitors

“All of this because of a mosquito,” Ben Harris, a strategic planning executive at Medical City Healthcare, said after a six-week stay last year in Medical City Plano due to West Nile virus. Harris, who is still on the road to recovery, now uses his platform to raise awareness of neuro-invasive West Nile virus, a life-threatening disease from the bite of an infected mosquito.

Man and children posing with lawn sign that says Welcome Home Ben

Mosquito season, which starts in the summer and continues through the fall, can last as long as high temperatures persist. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 120 people died of West Nile virus last year and thousands more were sickened.

Last September, after falling in the middle of the night, the 38-year old chief operating officer at Medical City Las Colinas was taken by helicopter ambulance to Medical City Plano, where his condition continued to deteriorate and he quickly lost the ability to breathe. Within 24 hours, he was paralyzed, placed on a ventilator and subsequently diagnosed with neuro-invasive West Nile virus – a rare infection (1 in every 150) that attacks the brain and spinal cord.

“I have worked in healthcare for more than 17 years,” said Harris, who also previously served as vice president of business development at Medical City Plano. “Ironically, I was part of the administrative team that opened Medical City Plano’s Brain and Spine Hospital. At the time of my illness, I had never been hospitalized and certainly never anticipated being a patient, much less a critically ill patient with a life-threatening virus that came from a mosquito bite.”

Man standing and using a walker with a woman standing behind him

Harris spent 6-weeks in the Medical City Plano intensive care unit (ICU), where he received life-saving medical treatment. He then spent 3 months in a long-term acute care facility with another 2 months of inpatient rehabilitation learning to breathe on his own, eat and walk again.

“At his worst, he lost 80% to 90% of function of his limbs,” Dr. Scott Van Poppel, the ICU medical director for Medical City Plano, told the North Texas local ABC affiliate.

One year later and back at work in the division office, Harris’ mobility is still somewhat limited as he continues to recuperate from the mosquito-borne disease.

“I spent a total of a little over six months in the hospital. I believe the number of total providers that came into my room during my time at Medical City Plano was almost a hundred. And without them taking care of me, I would not be here today,” Harris said in an interview with the Plano Star Courier.

Hospital care team surrounding a patient's bed

Currently, there is no vaccine or specific treatment for West Nile virus. Experts recommend prevention by following the 4 D’s:

  • Wear insect repellant that contains DEET whenever you are outside
  • Dress in long, loose, light-color clothing
  • Drain all standing water in and around the home
  • Limit outdoor activities during dusk and dawn when mosquitos are most active

Watch his incredible story of survival and recovery below.

Medical City Las Colinas and Medical City Plano are both members of the Medical City Healthcare network of hospitals and affiliates of Nashville, Tennessee-based HCA Healthcare.

HCA Healthcare 50th Anniversary
In 1968, HCA Healthcare was conceived by two physicians and an accomplished business leader — Dr. Thomas Frist Sr., Dr. Thomas Frist Jr., and Jack Massey. This year, HCA Healthcare celebrates its golden anniversary and the culture of caring established by our three founders 50 years ago. To help us celebrate our 50th year, we’ll share stories here that reflect HCA Healthcare’s mission – above all else, the care and improvement of human life – and our pledge to improve life and make history for the next 50 years and beyond.

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 186 hospitals and more than 2,000 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our approximately 275,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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