Fighting to remain grateful despite lingering illness

Katherine Hawes/GateHouse News Service
Rebekah Montgomery has waged a battle with West Nile Virus since 2003. The illness has been both trying and eye-opening for her.

As Rebekah Montgomery finishes her tenure as interim pastor of First Baptist Church of Galva, she is preparing for a new challenge - becoming a patient at the Mayo Clinic. The illness that takes her to the renowned medical center is West Nile Virus (WNV), which she contracted six years ago.

In 2003, Montgomery, a successful author and speaker, was working in the garden of her Kewanee home when she was bitten by a mosquito. At the time, she did not give it much thought because she was involved “day and night with a month-long mission project.”

Montgomery could not ignore it, though, when she became violently ill while at an out-of-state speaking engagement. She awoke in her hotel room with a high fever, a purple rash on her right shoulder, and nightmares which she describes as something “Stephen King would pay good money for.” She went on to speak at the convention as planned but knew she was very sick.

Upon arriving back in Kewanee, Montgomery was still feverish and not well. She tried to go on as usual, but soon realized she was losing the capability to function normally.

Her “bellwether day” came when she stood in her kitchen, attempting to salt a dish, and could not make her hand season the food. Montgomery noticed she could not perform other everyday tasks, either, such as writing and brushing her teeth.

After seeking medical attention, she was diagnosed with poison ivy and given Prednisone, a drug that inhibits the activity of the immune system. Montgomery’s symptoms sped up at that point, and she was referred to a neurologist who told her that she had Parkinson’s disease. The corresponding medicine again made her symptoms even worse.

She sought the opinion of Dr. Remi Satkauskas in Kewanee, who realized that something was seriously wrong, and that it was not Parkinson’s disease. Due to her physical condition, he sent her to local physical therapist Jon DeBord, who observed her and then identified her illness as West Nile Virus.

“It’s been a fairly miserable journey,” Montgomery acknowledged. “I miss playing the guitar and piano, but I try to focus on what I can do. I have this fight within me to keep going.”

For more of this story, see the June 4 Galva News.