Girl sickened by EEE ‘beating the odds’ in rehab


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Portage girl who nearly died from Eastern Equine Encephalitis is now in rehabilitation in Grand Rapids.

After weeks in intensive care at Bronson Methodist Hospital, 14-year-old Savanah DeHart checked into Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital on Sept. 5.

“She’s beating the odds. I mean, even when we first came here I don’t think her prognosis was all that great, I want to say. And she doing things that they didn’t think she was going to do or sometimes a little quicker than they thought she might. But she’s definitely beating the odds of what everyone thought,” said her mother, Kerri Dooley.

Savanah started showing symptoms on Aug. 16, but her family had no idea it was EEE.

“She started acting a little bit different. She had a severe headache and just kind of lethargic and zombie-like, is what I call it,” her mother said.

savannah dehart
An undated courtesy photo of Savanah DeHart.

Savanah’s family took her to Bronson Methodist Hospital’s emergency room, but her condition continued to deteriorate.

By the next morning, Savanah needed a ventilator to breathe.

“The hardest part was Aug. 22. That was the day she told us— er they told us she wasn’t going to make it. And the swelling got so bad that it went into her spinal cord and they didn’t think there was any return from that. So from that day to now, is a complete flip,” Dooley said in an interview with Mary Free Bed.

First, doctors thought Savanah had meningitis. Nine days after she was sickened, they had an answer: EEE.

The mosquito-borne infection has already sickened 10 people in West Michigan this year, four of whom have died.

“I feel like we’re kind of the lucky ones, so to say. Um, but it’s pretty devastating,” said Dooley.

“No child, no family expects this to happen. And it comes out of the blue. And it can be very devastating,” echoed Dr. Douglas Henry of Mary Free Bed.

Dooley said her daughter suffered ministrokes while she was at Bronson, leading to some brain damage. Doctors are unsure if the damage is reversable, but they’re hopeful.

“We generally see younger brains recover better after an injury, a virus, a stroke. So we are more optimistic with her then we may be if she was much older,” said Henry, who is on the team of pediatric specialists helping with Savanah’s therapies.

Dooley says it’s unclear if her daughter will ever walk or talk again, but that’s her goal.

“I just want her to be able to say, ‘Hi mom, hi dad’ and hug us.”

“This has to be very frightening for Savanah, to be in this state. Because I believe she is pretty aware of her, the state that she’s in and it has to be very comforting to have her parents there by her bedside,” said Henry.

At this point, Dooley says her daughter can lift her arms, hit a ball and turn her head.

“Simple things really that to you and I but not so much to her at this point. But it’s been pretty awesome to see,” Dooley said.

“…We finally hit that milestone where she can consistently follow a simple direction. Sometimes it’s a few second delay, but she can follow a direction to say move either one of her arms. And that’s huge,” said Henry.

“She’s fighting and she will get there,” Dooley vowed to supporters.

Savanah is a freshman at Vicksburg High School. Her mother says the charity volleyball games Savanah’s old and new schools have held are just some of the acts of support her family has experienced worldwide.

“It’s been very humbling,” said Dooley.

Henry says symptoms of EEE start showing up 3-10 days after someone is bitten by an infected mosquito. It’s unclear where Savanah was or what she was doing when she was sickened.

When it comes to EEE, Savanah’s mother has a word of warning for everyone:

“It’s real and it’s out there and use protection. Use the DEET (repellent), get your lawn sprayed, pay attention to symptoms. We didn’t think anything of a headache, we didn’t think of anything of a headache and a stomachache or anything like that until it was at a point where there was kind of no turning back.”



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