GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — LINK – Wood TV 8
Relatives of an 80-year-old man who died of West Nile virus over the weekend – the first in Kent County in six years – say he was a strong man with no health problems before the mosquito bite that killed him.
Now, the family of Miguel Hernandez is struggling to raise the money to send his body back to his native Mexico City.
Hernandez worked a factory job until he got sick early this month, his nephew told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday.
“A healthy man, strong man. For being his age, he was very, very strong,” his nephew Israel Hernandez said.
“We couldn’t believe it. We were like in shock. How can a mosquito kill our uncle?” he said.
He said his uncle thought he had the flu when he first got sick on Aug. 5.
He went to the hospital with fever and weakness, but was sent back home that day. Hernadez returned to the hospital the next day after his symptoms worsened.
“Worse and worse and worse,” his nephew said.
His nephew said it took at least a week for doctors to determine he had West Nile virus.
Hernandez died Saturday after 19 days in the hospital. His was the first confirmed West Nile death in Kent County since 2012 and only the eighth virus-related death ever in the county.
So far this year, the virus has sickened 15 people in the state, including one in Allegan County, one in Berrien County and four in Kent County. The only other reported death this year happened in Wayne County.
Hernandez moved to the United States from Mexico at least 15 years ago and loved the U.S., his nephew said. He loved to dance and to tell stories about his past, he said.
“He was a happy person,” the nephew said.
Hernandez had lived about a decade on Grandville Avenue SW.
“He was a very nice, good man,” his landlord, Leo Saavedra Sr., said.
Every day after work, he’d stop at La Familia Stop and Shop, located a block away from his home, for a Miller High Life, the store owner said.
“He was proud of the fact that even at his age, he was working at a factory 40 hours, and really was a role model for many of the working class here in the community,” store owner Jose Flores said.
At La Familia and other shops in Hispanic neighborhoods, Hernandez’s family has set out donation boxes to help send him home.
“We would appreciate any donations that you could make for the funeral expenses of Don Miguel Hernandez who passed away on the 25th of August,” the family wrote in Spanish. “We need help to transport his body back to the state of Mexico. Thank you for your donation and may God bless you.”
The family is working with Metcalf & Jonkhoff Funeral Service and the Mexican consulate, but said sending him home and burying him could cost up to $13,000.
“We’re going to miss him,” Flores said. “It’s amazing that a little mosquito could have an impact like that.”
Kent County health officials have warned this could be a bad year for West Nile after finding an unusually high number of mosquitoes that have tested positive for the virus. People over the age of 60 are especially vulnerable.
Health officials say about 80 percent of people infected with West Nile virus do not show symptoms of the illness. About one in 150 infected people becomes severely ill.
While there is no vaccine or cure for West Nile virus, the KCHD suggests taking the following steps to protect yourself:
- Wear a mosquito repellant that contains 10 percent to 35 percent DEET.
- Stay indoors during dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
- Remove standing water in your yard, which can be a mosquito breeding ground.
- Keep your lawn and shrubs cut.
- Wear light-colored clothing