Teen’s brush with virus almost fatal

The first diagnosis when Tyler Nicolay began coughing up blood was bronchitis and a chest infection.

The first diagnosis when Tyler Nicolay began coughing up blood was bronchitis and a chest infection.

He was given an inhaler and a prescription for antibiotics and sent home from Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s emergency department on Aug. 10.

Three days later though, the Innisfail-area 18-year-old began throwing up blood and went back to emergency.

This time there would be no going home anytime soon.

While no one knew at the time — and would not for more than a week — was that he was suffering from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.

It is a rare and potentially fatal disease carried primarily by deer mice and spread to humans through their droppings, urine or saliva. Typical symptoms are similar to the flu — fever, chills, body aches or trouble breathing.

On that second trip to the hospital, tests determined Tyler’s blood oxygen levels were unusually low and within hours he was airlifted by STARS to Calgary’s Peter Lougheed Hospital where one of Canada’s top pulmonary specialists is on staff.

He was soon transported to Foothills Hospital, which was equipped to undertake a procedure to remove Tyler’s plasma and replace it with healthy plasma.

For Tyler, the move to Calgary was worrying, but the transfer to the Foothills Hospital was really scary.

“After they told me I was going to Foothills I started panicking because they didn’t know what was wrong with me.”

Doctors began an exhaustive round of testing to find out what was wrong with their patient, a young man who only a day before had felt well enough to go to work driving heavy equipment at his construction job.

At first, it was thought he had an auto-immune disease, said Tyler’s mother Jamie.

“They tested him for everything. Anything you can imagine; drugs, anthrax and hantavirus, anything that can make you very, very ill.”

For Tyler, much of his treatment remains a blur.

“I don’t remember a lot of it. It felt like a really long nap and I woke up in hospital.”

While he was being treated, he was put into a medically induced coma for more than three weeks to keep him calm and to control his coughing, which caused renewed bleeding.

All the while the family, his mom and father Alvin and older sister Taylar and younger sister Maezie, had an agonizing wait to find out what was afflicting Tyler, who would be on life support for six weeks.

“He went in on (Aug. 13) and we found out on the 22nd of August what he had,” said Jamie. One of the reasons for the delay was that testing for hantavirus required the growing of cultures, which takes days.

Tyler was determined to get out of hospital before his mother’s 40th birthday on Sept. 24. He made it with two days to spare.

“It was the best present anyone could ever ask for,” said Jamie.

The five-foot-11-inch (1.8 metres) teen came out of hospital weighing only 135 pounds (61 kg) having lost 36 pounds (16 kg) and much of his muscle mass during his lengthy stay.

He had received nine units of blood and had his plasma replaced four times during his treatment.

Twice weekly physiotherapy sessions are helping him rebuild his muscle and he’s already put back about 15 pounds (seven kg).

Tyler said he feels good. “Just like I was before.”

His thoughts on his near-fatal brush with hantavirus? “It’s amazing something that small can have that effect.”

Jamie said the ordeal is never far from her mind.

“We’re still trying to wrap our heads around how he got it. “We’re just happy he’s home and healthy.

“We almost lost him a few times in hospital. It’s just like a miracle happened.

“Thank God, he’s young because if he didn’t have youth on his side we’re not sure he would have walked away from this.”

The family can’t give enough credit to the numerous doctors, nurses and other health workers that tended their son, she said.

“Tyler had so many different doctors and nurses while he was in hospital and they were all so good.”

The first hantavirus case was identified in Alberta in 1989, and since then 70 cases have been confirmed, mostly in Western Canada. In June, a Saskatchewan man died from the disease.

Alberta’s previous last confirmed case was in 2012 when an unidentified Central Alberta man was infected.

Alberta Health issued an advisory on Aug. 27 after Tyler’s hantavirus was confirmed, urging those who expect to be around mouse droppings to take precautions, such as wearing rubber gloves and soaking areas littered with droppings with a bleach solution before cleaning up.

How Tyler picked up the disease remains a mystery. Symptoms usually take three to five weeks to show, which meant he picked it up early in the summer.

It’s possible he picked it up somehow at work, but no others at the construction company came down with the disease. He helped clean out a friend’s Bowden home a few weeks before, but again no one else got sick.

The family lives on an acreage but Tyler didn’t spend a lot of time there and had not been cleaning out any sheds or doing anything else likely to bring him in contact with deer mice droppings.

“It’s just odd,” she said.

His symptoms also weren’t typical. Bleeding is not usually associated with hantavirus so it’s possible he had a pulmonary issue on top of the disease, she said.

Tyler thinks he might have picked up hantavirus from the heavy equipment he was driving. Mouse droppings were found on one of the machines later, he said.

He’s back driving his car now, but it will be some time before he is strong enough to work.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

Just Posted

Downtown Red Deer was packed with people who lined the streets to watch the Westerner Days parade on Wednesday. (Photo by SUSAN ZIELINSKI/Advocate staff)
Westerner Days parade cancelled, full details on modified event coming June 28

The 2021 edition of Westerner Days will look much different than any… Continue reading

City council wants to hear from the public at a May 25 hearing about whether the temporary homeless shelter should be allowed to remain in the downtown for another year. (Advocate file photo).
City of Red Deer staff to recommend another extension to allow operations at current temporary shelter site

Following some more research city administration has received no other new locations… Continue reading

A scene from the short Western ‘Cheaters, Robbers and Outlaws,’ written and directed by Jason Steele, with support from Telus Storyhive. (Contributed image)
Red Deerians make ‘Cheaters, Robbers and Outlaws’ short Western film

Writer and director Jason Steele received a $20,000 Storyhive grant from Telus

Residents in several neighbourhoods reported little to no water pressure Tuesday night. (File photo by Advocate staff)
City hall to reopen for payments and customer service

Red Deer City Hall will reopen on June 21 for utility and… Continue reading

Char Rausch was selected as this year’s recipient of the Bob Stollings Award, which goes to an employee who has displayed outstanding civic performance in alignment with The City’s Cornerstone Values – Respect, Integrity, Service and Excellence. (Photo courtesy City of Red Deer)
Char Rausch wins City of Red Deer Bob Stollings Award

The City of Red Deer is honouring employees differently this year. With… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise of a two-dose fall is… Continue reading

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, speaks during a press conference in Ottawa, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Mendicino has announced a new policy to help settle 500 refugees and their families in a news conference today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year: Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced plans to expedite applications and increase the… Continue reading

Louis Oosthuizen, of South Africa, plays his shot from the third tee during the second round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship, Friday, June 18, 2021, at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Bland leads at Torrey and shows the US Open is truly open

SAN DIEGO — The U.S. Open prides itself on being the most… Continue reading

The Prime Minister's car waits outside the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg Tuesday, May 19, 2009. The head of the Public Health Agency of Canada is showing no sign he'll release unredacted documents about the firing of two scientists at Canada's highest security laboratory — despite the prospect of being publicly shamed in the House of Commons for his refusal to turn them over. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
PHAC head maintains he’s bound by law not to release docs on fired scientists

OTTAWA — The head of the Public Health Agency of Canada is… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant in Canada

OTTAWA — The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly… Continue reading

Various vaping nicotine e-liquids or "juice" are shown in a lab at Portland State University in in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, April 16, 2019. The federal government says it wants to ban most flavoured vaping products in a bid to reduce their appeal to youth. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Craig Mitchelldyer
Health Canada proposes ban on most vaping flavours it says appeal to youth

The federal government says it wants to ban most flavoured vaping products… Continue reading

A supporter of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi holds a sign during a rally in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. Iran's clerical vetting committee has allowed just seven candidates for the Friday, June 18, ballot, nixing prominent reformists and key allies of President Hassan Rouhani. The presumed front-runner has become Ebrahim Raisi, the country's hard-line judiciary chief who is closely aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iran votes in presidential poll tipped in hard-liner’s favor

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iranians voted Friday in a presidential… Continue reading

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto, left, and President Seiko Hashimoto attend the news conference after receiving a report from a group of infectious disease experts on Friday, June 18, 2021, in Tokyo. The experts including Shigeru Omi, head of a government coronavirus advisory panel, issued a report listing the risks of allowing the spectators and the measurements to prevent the event from triggering a coronavirus spread. (Yuichi Yamazaki/Pool Photo via AP)
Top medical adviser says ‘no fans’ safest for Tokyo Olympics

TOKYO (AP) — The safest way to hold the Tokyo Olympics is… Continue reading

Most Read