Following her granddaughter’s seven-year battle against West Nile and Lyme disease, Teena Marks is calling for more education and awareness of the mosquito- and tick-transmitted diseases.
Marks was the guardian of 20-year-old Bailee Wennihan when she passed away May 24 from complications related to Lyme disease and West Nile.
“It’s not a crime not to know everything and not have all the answers,” Marks said. “It’s a crime not to try to get them. … Keep pressing for more education or someone else like Bailee will slip through the cracks.”
Wennihan, born in Kansas City, Missouri, struggled for five years to find a diagnosis, Marks said, while the diseases and treatments caused damage to her body.
“She fought hard,” said Marks, who lives in Gower, Missouri. “She fought long.”
Wennihan first started to exhibit symptoms, including headaches, body aches and fever, after returning from a church camp in Tarkio, Missouri, in 2009 at age 13. Marks took Wennihan, who was unable to regularly attend school due to the pain and fevers, to multiple doctors and received many different diagnoses, including mononucleosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
“They had all kinds of different theories on it,” Marks said. “No one knew what she had. Every place thought that it was something different and they’d treat her for that.”
Eventually, Wennihan went to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, where she was diagnosed with lupus and put on chemotherapy and prednisone. Unsatisfied with the diagnosis, Marks took Wennihan to more doctors across the nation for several years, seeking a second opinion.
Eventually, Marks paid for a blood test that came back positive for West Nile virus. They visited Dr. Charles Crist, a family practice medical doctor who specializes in Lyme disease, in Columbia, Missouri, who tested Wennihan for Lyme disease. The test came back positive.
“It was an unusual case,” Marks said. “He ran so many tests. She was encouraged … but she was never the same. The damage was done.”
Wennihan had damage to her hips and knees and had two strokes, Marks said. She was unable to receive a hip replacement due to her age, and was only able to periodically attend school and interact with friends due to her weakened immune system.
In April 2014, Wennihan was en route to St. Joseph to address kidney issues when her heart stopped, Marks said. She was revived and put on life support, where she stayed for three months. Eventually, she was transferred to Kindred Hospital in Dallas, Texas, where she was weaned off life support.
“She told one of the doctors that ‘You aren’t going to heal me. You can’t help me. God will heal me or he will take me home,’” Marks said. “She’d gotten to the point where we knew no doctor was listening. They don’t know how to treat those things. When she had the combination, it made it even worse.”
Wennihan eventually moved into a home purchased by Marks in Farmers Branch, Texas. For almost two years, she was bed bound but was able to hear and understand people, Marks said. Wennihan passed away last month from pneumonia resulting from underlying conditions.
“She was amazing,” Marks said. “It’s amazing how many times I’ve heard people say that Bailee was far older in her wisdom than most people were. I don’t know, maybe God somehow prepared her for this journey. I don’t know. I wish it had turned out differently.”
Marks described Wennihan as a loving young woman with a contagious laugh who always put others first. She loved photography and wanted to someday be a photographer and flight attendant.
“She was beautiful, inside and out,” Marks said. “That’s what makes someone pretty, their personality. Bailee loved people.”
After waiting five years for a diagnosis, Marks now hopes to encourage parents and medical professionals to become educated about Lyme disease and West Nile to better identify symptoms and provide faster care, she said.
“Don’t give up. Keep pressing for doctors to be educated so they recognize it,” Marks said. “Don’t ever give up. Just keep fighting. A little at a time, doctors are going to be educated on this.”
She also encourages parents and adults to consider Lyme disease and West Nile as possibilities. They do not know exactly when Wennihan contracted them, but it was likely in Missouri, Marks said.
“Do not give up. If you think there’s a possibility that your child was bit by a tick, it doesn’t make any difference what you’ve been told, you have to keep going on,” Marks said. “We have to make them aware.”