Posted: May 20, 2013 5:22 PM by Judy Slate and Jamie Leary
Updated: May 21, 2013 9:26 AM
BOZEMAN - More than a week after a Gallatin County woman died after contracting Hantavirus, her fiancé is left grappling with the news of her death. Meanwhile, some neighbors in the mobile home court where she lived are preparing to move.
RheaLynn Baxter, 20, was admitted to the ER in Bozeman and discharged with what she thought was a nasty virus. RheaLynn's fiancé tells us she was Life Flighted to Billings on May 10 and died the following day.
RheaLynn had just recently become engaged. Zak Stark, her fiancé, has been working in Williston, North Dakota. Now, he's trying to cope with RheaLynn's death.
"I'm having a hard time grasping the fact that she is gone and that she's not coming back," he said.
Zak and RheaLynn dated on and off for about two years before becoming engaged the day before Easter. When RheaLynn became sick, Zak was in North Dakota. He remembers one night when they were video chatting.
"She told me that she had to go and before it ended, I heard her throwing up," he remembers.
He says RheaLynn went to Bozeman Deaconess Hospital and was sent home with some pills for nausea and a headache, but she was soon back in the hospital.
"The day before she passed away, her mother texted that she was being airlifted to Billings," he said.
Zak dropped everything and rushed to Billings. He was with RheaLynn for about an hour before she was put into a coma.
"I told her that I loved her and that everything was going to be OK and that I was here, and I told her she was going to get through it," he said.
RheaLynn passed away the next morning.
"I've just been so lost and so confused, and I don't really know what to do," Zak said.
RheaLynn was a rodeo queen. Zak says he was working in Williston to make enough money to help RheaLynn realize her dream of qualifying for the National Rodeo Finals.
Zak has since moved out of the couple's home in Morgan Court near Logan.
Since RheaLynn's death, the HRDC and other groups have been working to move some of her neighbors to more suitable living conditions.
Those who are not moving are worried about their health.
"When I came home from work, I had seen some of her friends were wearing masks and moving stuff out of the trailer next to us," neighbor Jessica Campbell said.
Campbell lived next door to RheaLynn and Zak.
"You never know how many mice are carrying it. We live so close to them and if the mice aren't dead, they could travel over to us," Campbell said. "I picked up some masks and bleach. My main concern is my neighbor that has kids."
Personnel at the HRDC say the organization is working with the Health Department, along with Pioneer Church and United Methodist Church to move some of Campbell's neighbors to better living conditions. But for now, Campbell is cautiously staying put.
RheaLynn is the 10th person reported to have died from Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome in Montana since 1993. This is the first Hantavirus-related death in Montana in 2013. The greatest risk for contracting Hantavirus is associated with exposure to rodent feces in closed, dry areas.
Health experts say the Hantavirus is extremely difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are non-specific. Symptoms include shortness of breath, muscle aches, fever and chills. Symptoms may not show up until one to six weeks after exposure.
There is no cure for Hantavirus.
"Really there is no specific thing that can be done except to treat the symptoms and to manage the individual in terms of manifestation for example pulmonary syndrome," said Karl Milhon of DPHHS.
The experts say that if you've been around rodents or rodent droppings and have the symptoms, be sure to tell your doctor. If you're going to be cleaning near or around rodents or their dropping be sure to wet down the area first.
(Photo from Facebook)