Local West Nile survivor gives back to community years later

Idaho Falls

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FIRTH – It started with the symptoms of a head cold or even the stomach flu. A headache, fever and nausea. A young boy from Firth was flying kites with his family at the Shelley Park when he started to feel very ill.

Skyler Auclaire, 18, was eight-years-old when he contracted the West Nile Virus, a disease transmitted to humans through mosquitos. He was the first pediatric case in east Idaho.

Within days he was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Portneuf Medical Center. Skyler’s illness progressed rapidly. He had an intense fever that lasted a week, was in and out of a coma, and nearly died.

“Watching your little boy slip away from you is not how life is supposed to be,” Skyler’s mom, Kerri Cragun, told EastIdahoNews.com. “We’re supposed to grow old and we go first.”

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Skyler Auclaire and his mom Kerri Cragun.

Because of the severity of the illness, Skyler lost the motor functions of the right side of his body – similar to effects of someone who has experienced a stroke. Skyler was forced to relearn basic skills like tying his shoes and buttoning his shirt. He was forced to learn how to walk again. During this time, he received support from his mom, sister, Ave, grandparents and other extended family.

“I couldn’t even do buttons because my right hand wouldn’t work,” Skyler said. “I had to wear awesome velcro shoes. I hated it so much. I hated (my walker) too because it made me feel like less of a person.”

It took years for Skyler to recover and now, for the most part, he’s a healthy teenager.

“He does still have long lasting effects that will follow him the rest of his life, but he’s walking and is doing okay,” Kerri said. “He’s such a driven, positive person.”

Skyler is trying to give back to his community by hosting a blood drive with the American Red Cross on Wednesday, April 20. Students and the public can line up at the Firth High School library to donate blood from 8:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.

“I want to make sure that everybody knows that when they give blood they’re helping somebody else,” Skyler said. “They may not see it and it may not happen for a little while, but it will help somebody else.”

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Skyler Auclaire in the Broulims lobby promoting blood drive.

He’s also been sharing his experience with the community and building awareness about vector transmitted diseases. According to the Center for Disease Control, vectors like mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas carry parasites, viruses, or bacteria between people or between animals and people.

Workers from the Idaho chapter of Vector Disease Control will be at the drive assisting Skyler. They will answer questions about diseases and stress the importance of wearing bug spray.

“(My mom) makes us wear bug spray, like ridiculous amounts of bug spray,” Skyler said. “I know she just doesn’t want it to happen again. It’s worth it to her to have peace of mind.”

Even though Skyler still suffers from some effects of the West Nile virus, he knows he’s lucky to be alive. His family say he’s a blessing and they are proud that he’s trying to help others.

“Life is very fragile and I try to make sure that I always tell everybody I love them,” Skyler said.

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