By Monte Miller
Missourian Staff Writer
A story first reported by The Missourian two weeks ago, has now circled the globe and shed light on a little known virus and one of its first victims.
When former Meramec State Park Assistant Superintendent Tamela Wilson died in late June from complications related to the tick-borne Bourbon virus, her family had no idea the case would be thrust into the national and international spotlight.
Wilson’s daughter, Amie May, said her mother wouldn’t have liked all of the attention, but she’s happy her story is out there.
“I never expected it to go as far as it has, but I’m glad it did,” May said. “There have been so many reporters from all over. Plus, all of the comments I have read have been very supportive. Most people had never heard of the virus before.”
In addition to local media, May was also contacted by print, radio and television stations all over Missouri and nationwide.
“I’ve talked to reporters from CBS and the ‘Today’ show,” May said. “I even talked to someone from Time magazine.”
May added she also has seen her mother’s story pop up in on media from Singapore, the United Kingdom and India.
Back here at home, the original story garnered more than 117,000 hits on The Missourian website, and was shared more than 2,000 times on Facebook, reaching 113,783 people.
Now that the unexpected publicity is waning, May said she has picked up her mother’s ashes and the family is preparing to lay her to rest as she requested.
“It brings me a lot of peace,” May said. “We have her now and we’re bringing her home.”
May said Wilson’s coworkers at Meramec State Park plan to plant a tree in her honor and place a bench near the visitor’s center as a memorial to her mother’s decade of service to the park.
“We also got a card from her old co-workers at the Lake of the Ozarks park,” May said. “That was really nice. Other than that, we haven’t heard anything from the other state agencies.”
After Wilson’s death in late June, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), collected and is currently testing thousands of tick samples from the park.
May said her family members, and Wilson’s coworkers, who were exposed to Wilson before she became ill have been asked to give blood samples to test for possible antibodies to the virus.
As of now, May said she is uncertain when or if the blood testing will be done, but it was supposed to be at the state park in Sullivan.
Although Wilson tested positive for the Bourbon virus twice during the three weeks she was in Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis, the actual cause of death recorded on her death certificate was respiratory failure.
May, who is a registered nurse, said she is working to get her mother’s medical and autopsy reports released to her family, so they can know further and to what degree the Bourbon virus played in her mother’s death.
Two seed ticks were removed from Wilson’s hip shortly after the Memorial Day weekend.
Two or three days later she wasn’t feeling any better. After a blood test found her platelets and white blood cell count was low, she was sent directly to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis
May said the doctors at first thought her mother had Rocky Mountain spotted fever or Heartland virus, and they were going to send some of her blood to the CDC for further testing.
On June 11, the results came back and she tested positive for Bourbon virus.
Soon after, Wilson began to have complications with her bone marrow, liver, lungs and the rash became so bad she couldn’t talk, eat or even swallow.
Wilson had abnormal enzymes and was diagnosed with pneumonia and just before she died doctors began treating her for Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), a life-threatening immunodeficiency related to white blood cell irregularities.
A second test for Bourbon virus came back positive June 22, just hours before Wilson died.