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Help Nancy Heal: Community Rallies Around Victim of West Nile Virus

 Nancy Lundquist struggles to regain the use of her limbs after being stricken with West Nile virus.
Nancy Lundquist struggles to regain the use of her limbs after being stricken with West Nile virus.
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Lundquist Family

LINCOLN SQUARE — Entertaining a group of friends in the back yard of her Lincoln Square home last summer, Nancy Lundquist felt the nip of a mosquito.

"She so casually brushed it off," said Shigeyo Henriquez, a friend of Lundquist's for more than two decades.

Days later, suffering the most severe of reactions to West Nile virus, Lundquist was rushed to the hospital where she fell into a coma. She awakened to a form of paralysis that closely resembles polio, able to feel her limbs but not move them.

"It's unbelievable, it's just surreal," said Lundquist's niece Kimber Galvin.

Galvin is among the family, friends, co-workers and strangers rallying around Lundquist as she struggles to recover from the virus.

A "helping hands" web page allows friends to schedule visits with Lundquist, who remains at a rehab facility in Des Plaines, in order to keep her occupied throughout the day. Volunteers have also organized a series of fundraisers, including one scheduled for March 10, to help defray mounting medical bills. A GiveForward page has also been set up to raise money.

In what Galvin terms a "double whammy," Lundquist's husband Roy is simultaneously being treated for leukemia, which has exhausted the couple's insurance benefits.

"He's doing his best to hold it together. I'm really proud of them for being as strong as they've been," she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 2012 posted the highest number of West Nile cases in the U.S. since 2003, including 243 deaths.

While most people stricken with the virus will experience few if any symptoms other than a fever, 1 percent suffer the sort of extreme reaction experienced by the 65-year-old Lundquist, caused by an inflammation of the brain or spinal cord.

"I had no idea how severe this West Nile virus was. She can only bring her arms up 10 inches, she can barely close her hands," said Henriquez, who spends time with Lundquist twice a week.

"This is just unbelievable what happened."

Galvin recalled the point when the scope of her aunt's condition finally hit her, when she paid her first visit to Lundquist in rehab.

"Her glasses were dirty and had slid to the bottom of her nose, and she couldn't move them. Just the little things we take for granted every day," Galvin said.

Progress has come slowly as Lundquist has had to re-learn basic functions like eating and talking.

"It's going in a positive direction," said Jeff Lundquist, one of Nancy and Roy's three sons.

Though he wouldn't speculate on his mother's prognosis, he insisted, "We're expecting a full recovery."

If there is a bright side to be found in Lundquist's story, it's the outpouring of support the family has received, not just from close friends but from co-workers and total strangers.

Lundquist had only recently taken a job with Dream Town Realty when she became ill, yet her new colleagues have been active in drumming up donations.

"Barbara O'Connor has been a godsend," Galvin said of the Dream Town manager and wife of Ald. Pat O'Connor (40th), who helped organize Sunday's fundraising event.

Jeff Lundquist said the amount of assistance the family has received has been "humbling." If uncomfortable at first with the concept of accepting charity, he has come to appreciate the gesture.

"It's nice to have help," he said.

As Lundquist regained mobility in her fingers, Henriquez set up an iPad so her friend could finally check her emails and witness the hundreds of messages from well wishers.

Lundquist was overwhelmed, said Henriquez.

"The tears just wouldn't stop flowing."

Tickets for the March 10 fundraiser, Help Nancy Heal, are $40 at the door. The event will be held at O'Malley's Liquor Kitchen, 3551 N. Sheffield Ave., 6-9 p.m. The evening includes music, a raffle and silent auction.