Howard and Diane Fine refer to Fair Harbor, Fire Island, where they spend a week of their summer vacation every year, as their “happy place.” In 2022, the couple’s annual Fire Island vacation coincided with their 30th wedding anniversary, so Howard surprised Diane by arranging a vow renewal ceremony on the beach.
This year, on their 31st anniversary, Howard gave Diane an even better gift, opening his eyes for the first time in more than a week after battling to recover from West Nile virus in Good Samaritan University Hospital’s medical intensive care unit.
Just one day into the couple’s annual getaway, Howard became feverish. The following day, he was conscious, but unable to talk. Diane called 9-1-1, and an ambulance transported Howard to Good Samaritan, where doctors diagnosed the 63-year-old Dix Hills resident with West Nile virus.
West Nile is the leading cause of mosquito-borne illness in the United States. Most people who become infected do not become ill, but one in 150 infected people develop a potentially fatal illness. Howard was one of them.
Within hours of arriving at Good Samaritan’s Emergency Department, Howard’s condition rapidly deteriorated. He was admitted to the hospital’s medical intensive care unit, where he would remain for days while a team of physicians raced to find the source of his infection. Infectious disease specialist Michael Gray, MD, was one of the first to examine Howard and order the laboratory tests that, after several days, confirmed the diagnosis. By then, Howard was in a medically induced coma with a breathing tube and feeding tube to sustain him.
Diane and their adult children, Dana, Amanda and Jonathan, were able to stay by Howard’s side around the clock. There is no treatment for West Nile virus, so the medical team focused its efforts on supportive care, using interventions to keep Howard alive until his body was able to fight off the infection.
'It took nine days for Howard to be able to breathe on his own. During that time, Dr. Gray collaborated with this infectious disease colleagues Uzma Syed, DO, and Hermes Lopez, MD; neurologist Reuben Burshtein, DO, and a team of critical care physicians and nurses to monitor and treat Howard.
During that time, Diane, who had never been to Good Samaritan before, was awed by the skill and compassion of the medical team.
“Everybody on the unit was amazing,” Diane said. “We were impressed by their knowledge, level of caring, and ability to explain everything they were doing.”
Those were tense days, as the team could not be certain that Howard had not sustained long-term cognitive damage. Spending hours by Howard’s side, Diane and her children developed a newfound appreciation for the nursing staff tasked with managing his day-to-day care needs.
“The nurses were real angels on earth,” Diane said. “You have no clue about what is involved in caring for a critically ill person until you see it up close. I was amazed by their expertise.”
When Howard finally woke up, his first words to his wife were, “I’m sorry for worrying you.” The next day, he was transferred to a regular medical floor. Three days later, he was discharged to an inpatient rehabilitation center to work on regaining his strength, balance and endurance.
Prior to his illness, Howard was an avid swimmer and cyclist who completed a 65-mile bicycle ride to the Hamptons with friends. Today, two months after his harrowing experience, he has been able to return to his career as a Certified Public Accountant part-time while he continues outpatient physical therapy as he works toward a full recovery.
Reflecting on the fact that Howard emerged from his coma on the couple’s wedding anniversary, Diane joked, “It wasn’t as good as the 30th, but it was close.” Thanks to the care Howard received at Good Sam, the couple is grateful that they can look forward to spending many future anniversaries in their happy place.