Rare Rabies Survivor Graduates from College

By: Wsaw Staff
By: Wsaw Staff

This is a big week for Jeanna Giese of Fond du Lac. She's the rabies survivor who made headlines around the world when she became the first person ever to beat rabies without the vaccine.

Now Jeanna Giese is 21 years old and she's reaching a new milestone and has a new mission to save lives.

Giese has always loved animals.

"Ever since the day I was born, it's always been animals," she said.

As she's grown, her compassion for animals has also grown.

"When I was younger, I wanted to be a vet., then I got into a zoo keeper, now anything with animal," Giese said. "I really want to work on conservation. I still love horses, wolves and tigers added to that. Of course I love bats."

But, it was Giese's love for bats that nearly killed her. In the fall of 2004, the 15-year-old Giese rescued a bat during a church service. During the rescue, the bat bit Giese on the finger. A month went by and Giese's health started to fail quickly.

By the time she got to the hospital and it was discovered Giese has rabies, 34 days had passed since she had been bitten. Doctors decided it was too late for the vaccine, without which rabies is fatal.

In a dire situation, Giese and her parents knew they needed a miracle, so her doctor devised a risky treatment.

"I don't recommend stuff before you try it in animals but in this case we didn't have time," said Dr. Rodney Willoughby. "This was stitched together in 4 hours, discussed for an hour, and it just turned out we were very lucky and Jeanna was very lucky."

A week long drug induced coma allowed Giese's own immune system to fight the rabies virus. On New Years Day 2005, Giese left the hospital.

Giese's classmates welcomed her home at a school assembly. She was the only person in the world to survive rabies without the vaccine.

"We honestly believe we saw a miracle -- a miracle of faith -- a miracle of medicine," said Robb Jensen Giese's High School Principal. "Those two things put together is why Jeanna is with us now. "

But Jeanna's fight was just the beginning. She had to relearn how to walk and talk. It took her two years of physical therapy to get her back on her feet.

Now, seven years later it's hard to see the lasting impact of rabies.

"A lot of it is neurological, side affects effect my balance, some of my running ability," she said. "Nothing that keeps me from doing everyday activities, not as good as other people but i can still try and throw my weight around."

Giese has had her story told on T.V., in newspapers and in documentaries. Now she's telling her own story at school rabies conventions, and online through homemade videos.

"It's a little bit easier for me to talk about it, it still brings back painful memories that painful year or two of my life but everyday is a new day and everyday I make another step toward recovery," she said.

The treatment that saved Giese's life has been used to save four other people around the world.

"It's failed multiple times, but if it works on four people it's a great milestone on something that was fatal," Giese said.

She's about to celebrate another milestone when she graduates from college in a few days.

"I'm majoring in biology, to stay close to animals," Giese said. "I definitely want to work with them and hoping to save them and help them."

Giese's on her way home from a speaking engagement in Boston just in time for Sunday's graduation at Lakeland college. This summer she'll travel to the Philippines to speak at a rabies convention.

The treatment that saved her is now called the Milwaukee Protocol. Her doctor says they're using the third version, and are about to move to Version Four. With it there's a 20 percent chance of survival, which he says is much better than zero.

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