September 12, 2004, is a day that Jeanna Giese will never forget.
The 15-year-old student picked up a bat while at St. Patrick’s Church in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The bat bit her, but after cleaning the wound at home, her family decided to not seek medical attention. 37 days after receiving the bite, she developed neurological symptoms.
Her speech was slurred, she had double vision, and her left arm was jerking. She was admitted to St. Agnes Hospital with a fever of 102 °F.
She wasn’t responding to any treatment.
Not only that, but all tests were coming back negative. As her condition deteriorated, Jeanna reminded her mother of the bat bite.
After learning of the bite, the doctors quickly diagnosed her with rabies (which the CDC confirmed).
She was referred to a Dr. Willoughby at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa.
Since Jeanna did not receive the vaccine in time, her doctors had to get creative.
There’s a theory that rabies deaths are caused by temporary brain dysfunction (but the brain itself isn’t damaged). The lead doctor decided to put Jeanna in a coma to protect her brain. The medical team hoped she would survive long enough for her immune system to produce the antibodies to fight off the virus.
After 31 tense days in the hospital, Jeanna was miraculously declared virus-free.
She did suffer some brain damage from the disease and the coma, so Jeanna spent several tough weeks undergoing rehabilitation therapy.
What happened to this young girl in the face of death is now known as the Milwaukee Protocol.
There are are many critics of this treatment, however.
They claim that the survivors of the Milwaukee Protocol (only 5 out of 36 survived) didn’t die because the patients were already genetically predisposed to having a rabies immunity.
Being put in a coma is a drastic last resort when it comes to treating rabies. If you are bitten by an animal, whether you think it’s rabid or not, you should seek medical attention and receive a rabies shot.