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An Act of Kindness Turns Deadly

Ed Heath - 700 Club Producer

“They pretty much told us that she's got only a few hours to live. We can either take her home and put her in a dark room and let her die or leave her there.” 

October 14, 2004…. 5 days earlier….

High school sophomore Jeanna Giese was halfway through a week-long volleyball tournament when she started feeling ill. Her mom, Ann, kept a close eye on her. She recalls, “On Thursday she went to school, not feeling good, but she had a volleyball game that night, and so she wanted to make sure she could play in it.” By game time, Jeanna had developed double-vision and was too tired to play. Ann says, “We knew something was wrong. So, then Friday morning I called her pediatrician.” Her pediatrician was concerned about the double-vision and referred them to a neurologist. A CAT scan and blood work were ordered, both came back normal. Ann recalls, “So, we went home. She went right to bed. I prayed and I asked God, ‘What is wrong with her?’ And I called my sisters, my family ‘Can everybody pray for Jeanna?’"

Jeanna continued to decline. By Saturday morning, she couldn’t walk so Ann rushed her to the ER. As doctors probed for answers, Ann remembered an unusual day in late September when a bat flew into church and Jeanna went to help it. Ann recalls, “She picked it up by the tips of the wings and um carried it outside, and on the way out it bit her in the finger.” The bite was just a pinprick so they cleaned it and thought nothing more of it. Now, however… Ann remembers, “The doctor’s face turned white, and he said, ‘She's going to Children's Hospital.’ I was getting worried. I didn't know what could be going on with her.”  

It would take three more days for tests to confirm the doctor’s fears - rabies. The virus attacks the spinal cord and brain and is 100 percent fatal if not treated immediately. For Jeanna, it had been four weeks, too late to receive the vaccine. Ann says, “And they were like, She's probably only got a few hours to live and there's really nothing we can do." My husband and I looked at each other and we just both started crying.” 

Her doctor did have one suggestion: a theoretical treatment never before tried – put Jeanna in a coma, give her some viral medication, and hope her body would fight. Ann recalls, “Dr. Willoughby had no, really, idea on how long they'd keep her in the coma. We don't know if it's gonna work. She could come out a vegetable. We just don't know.”

With her parents’ permission, doctors proceeded. Prayer chains for Jeanna had spread around the country, asking for a miracle. Ann remembers those long days by Jeanna’s bedside. Finally, after a week, blood tests showed signs that Jeanna’s system was fighting. Ann recalls, “She had more antibodies than they've ever seen. So that there is a miracle in itself.” 

By the end of another week, tests showed no trace of the virus and the medical team brought her out of the coma. However, her doctor wasn’t sure if she would ever speak or even move again as Jeanna showed no signs of responding. Ann remembers, “And then one day he opened her eyes and he held them open and he said, ‘Jeanna, this is Dr. Willoughby. Your mom's here, can you look over at her?’ And I said, ‘Jeanna, I'm over here. You know, it's mom.’  And she turned her head, and that's when we knew that she was okay.”

Jeanna recalls, “The first thing that I remember from waking up, my entire family came, went down in the cafeteria to eat dinner, and I just remember my brothers were, you know, saying jokes and I was having a really great time.”

In therapy for the next 9 weeks, Jeanna would need more prayer and God’s strength. Jeanna says, “You learn basically everything. Walking, moving, grabbing things, speaking. It was a huge mix of emotions between pain and frustration and confusion and everything together.”

Then, on January 1st, 2005 Jeanna came home. In fact, she made medical history as the first person ever to survive rabies without the vaccine. Ann says, “It was a special day. And it was just awesome to have the whole family together, not in the hospital.”

That was nearly 16 years ago. Today Jeanna is married, has a college degree, and is the mother to three beautiful children. She also races sled dogs and enjoys living life to the fullest. Jeanna says, “I do thank God that, hey, I'm still breathing. I have this family. I am doing all this stuff. And so, yeah, I think between educating others and being the wife and the mother and having my family, I think that's why I'm still here. God pulled me through.”

And Ann says, “I had faith before, but it did definitely became stronger. You know, I prayed more and just – the feeling of, ‘Wow, He got her through this.’ It was pretty amazing.”

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