Family donates firefighter's brain for West Nile research

October 8, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Fire Lieutenant Flahive, 58, does not appear to have had an underlying health issue, which is common in many West Nile Virus fatalities. His family has donated his brain to the Center for Disease Control to study the disease.

Flahive was remembered on Monday for his dry, sometimes politically incorrect sense of humor, but his colleagues say when the fire call came, he was all business. His business often put him on the roofs of burning buildings.

"That was Tom's job and he pulled through all the time and now something like a mosquito bite for a guy his size. It's just beyond comprehension," Ald. Nick Sposato, friend, said.

Fire Lieutenant Flahive was in good health. He worked out religiously and had no known auto-immune problems. He was bitten by a mosquito while hiking in Wisconsin. Two weeks later, he died from West Nile.

"Even if I'd brought him to the hospital the day he was bitten, there's nothing they could do. No cure. No treatment," Mary Faith Flahive said.

Part of the agony for the Flahive family was the "not knowing." Was it the flu? Was it food poisoning? The blood test that finally confirmed West Nile cam well after the disease had taken control.

"What happened was the West Nile got into his arteries and basically strangled them so he had no blood supply to his brain," Mary Faith Flahive said.

Flahive's wife and three sons donated the lieutenant's brain for West Nile research led by the Centers for Disease Control. They hope that it might provide a window to understanding – or, at the very least, greater awareness.

"If you would've told me that 17 people died from West Nile in Illinois alone, that's unbelievable. You always think it's somebody else, but it hit very close to home for us," Dan Flahive, son, said.

Four out of every five people who are infected with West Nile won't display any symptoms at all and about one for every 150 will develop a serious illness.

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