“Team Tschetter” family members surrounding James Tschetter in his hospital bed at Huron Regional Medical Center include, seated, from left, his wife, Lisa, and at right, his mother, Judy Tschetter of Huron; and standing, Kayla Walters holding son Cayson, Abbey Tschetter, Sydney Tschetter and her boyfriend Ryan Sprecher, Bailey Tschetter, Carson Walters and Waylon Walters. This photo was taken on Christmas Eve. A benefit is planned Jan. 19 at the Huron Elks to help the family defray expenses. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED In the next photo, James Tschetter, who has been hospitalized since July 17 with a severe case of West Nile virus that affected his central nervous system, is flanked by his wife, Lisa, at left, and his sister, Janet Peck of Huron, in this picture taken Thursday afternoon at Huron Regional Medical Center. James was moved Friday to a rehabilitation/medical center in Fargo, N.D. PHOTO BY CRYSTAL PUGSLEY/PLAINSMAN
“Tough times don’t last, tough people do” has become a mantra of hope for James Tschetter of Huron, who has been hospitalized all but 10 days since contracting West Nile virus last July.
James, 44, complained of irritation and swelling from what he thought was a spider bite on July 17. A few days later they thought it was just a case of flu when he became feverish and achy. Just 10 days after being bitten, he was admitted to the hospital.
“He was sick within a week and in the hospital the following weekend,” his wife, Lisa, said Thursday in the intensive care unit at HRMC with James reclining next to her.
“He got better then worse,” she said.
By July 31, it was decided to transfer James to a Sioux Falls hospital. Unfortunately, that same day Lisa was helping one of their four daughters move into her college dorm.
“By the time I got to Sioux Falls he didn’t know who I was,” Lisa said. “He was very confused and had a fever.”
Their children are Kayla, 24; Bailey, 21; Sydney, 18; and Abbey, 14. They also have two grandchildren, Cayson, 2, and Carson, who is in kindergarten.
Tests in Sioux Falls revealed that James had West Nile virus — a mosquito-borne disease that can cause flu-like symptoms.
Nearly 80 percent of infections in humans cause no symptoms. James’ case is among less than 1 percent of cases that are severe and result in neurological disease when the central nervous system is affected.
“That caused him not to be able to use his limbs,” Lisa said.
He has a breathing tube surgically implanted to help him breathe, and he receives nutrition through a feeding tube.
Many times over the past six months they thought they were losing the battle, Lisa added.
“He’s had his funeral planned a couple times, but we’ve told him he’s going to get better,” she said. “They called four code blues on him — not because his heart quit but his oxygen level was so low. That happened once in Sioux Falls and three times here.”
James weighed about 140 pounds when his ordeal began, and he tips the scales now at just more than 100 pounds.
Lisa said they have tried to go home on more than one occasion. “We went home a couple of times, but he would get pneumonia and have to come back.”
As his condition has stabilized the past weeks that he’s been back at Huron Regional Medical Center, Lisa began looking at rehabilitation centers that would be able to help James gain muscle control again.
On Thursday, hospital officials told the couple that Vibra Hospital in Fargo, N.D., a rehabilitation center, was willing to accept James.
Lisa traveled with James in the ambulance to Fargo on Friday morning. “In Fargo, they said they do not go backward, we go forward,” Lisa said, smiling at James.
Right now he can stand for about a minute to a minute and a half with assistance.
While he’s been unable to speak since his ordeal began, Lisa said she’s become an expert at lip reading. It’s because of this that she will be traveling to Fargo to be with him. “No one can understand him if I’m not there,” Lisa said, laughing. “I’ve got a PhD in lip reading.”
Just recently he’s been able to control finger movement enough to text one-handed, Lisa said. “We really try to have him make decisions,” she added.
Until this all happened, Lisa was working with Center for Independence, and James has worked 21 years at Terex. Lisa said she had to give up her job to be with James, and unless he is able to return to work by Jan. 21, his employment will be terminated and they will need to look at options to maintain his insurance coverage.
Besides working at Terex, James also farmed full time on the family farm near Huron.
“The girls have done amazingly well through all of this,” Lisa said. “Our daughter stuck it out two months at college, then she came back home to be near her dad.”
What keeps her going strong?
“Family and faith,” Lisa said. “I don’t know how you can get through it without them. Some nights I go home so exhausted I just fall into bed. I know there’s people praying when you’re too tired to pray.”
Pointing to a wall filled with cards and pictures in his hospital room, Lisa said each one reminds them that many people care for them.
“For Christmas we set up a tree in his room and had people bring ornaments to put on it,” Lisa said. “That will be our special tree next year.”
Their church family at Mount Olivet has been wonderful helping them by cooking meals and supporting the family in any way they can, she added.
All of this hearkens to another time when James’ inner strength helped pull him through. Seven years ago, he was out of commission for nine months after a semi-trailer T-boned his vehicle leaving him fighting for his life.
It was during his recovery that he first saw someone wearing a T-shirt with the saying: “Tough people don’t last, tough people do.”
After what he had just been through with the accident, he told his wife it was a phrase he could relate to and it became his motto.
While he was teetering between life and death in his battle with West Nile virus, Lisa had T-shirts made with his favorite quote for family and friends to wear to show their support.
James is the son of Judy and the late Jerry Tschetter of Huron. He has two sisters, Janet Peck of Huron and Janelle Moss, who lives in Rochester, Minn.
Those who would like to send cards of support and encouragement to James can send them to Vibra Hospital of Fargo, 1720 S. University Dr., Fargo, N.D. 58103.
You can also follow James’ progress on facebook at “Pray for James Tschetter.”
For the complete article see the 01-12-2014 issue.
Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 01-12-2014 paper.
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