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Rabies survivor graduates college

May 9, 2011 at 8:46 PM

FOND DU LAC, Wis., May 9 (UPI) -- A woman who survived rabies without vaccine graduated from a Wisconsin college, saying her mission is to save animals -- even the kind that almost killed her.

"When I was younger, I wanted to be a vet, then I got into a zoo keeper, now anything with animal," Jeanna Giese, 21, said. "I really want to work on conservation. I still love horses, wolves and tigers added to that. Of course I love bats."

A bat almost killed the young biology major who graduated Sunday from Lakeland College in Sheboygan.

Giese was 15 when she was bitten on the finger as she attempted to rescue a bat during a Fond du Lac church service in 2004. Giese and her parents ignored the bite for more than a month and the teen's health deteriorated before she made it to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

It was 34 days before Giese got to the hospital and doctors diagnosed rabies -- too late to use the rabies vaccine that would save her life, WSAW-TV, Wausau, Wis., said.

Dr. Rodney Willoughby devised a strategy to medically induce a weeklong coma, allowing Giese's immune system to fight the rabies virus.

"I don't recommend stuff before you try it in animals but in this case we didn't have time," Willoughby said. "This was stitched together in 4 hours, discussed for an hour, and it just turned out we were very lucky and Jeanna was very lucky."

It worked. Jeanna left the hospital on New Year's Day 2005 but she says she still feels the effects of rabies.

"A lot of it is neurological, side effects affect my balance, some of my running ability," she said. "Nothing that keeps me from doing everyday activities, not as good as other people but I can still try and throw my weight around."

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