AUSTIN (KXAN) — A retired Austin Police lieutenant says he was infected with a tropical disease rarely seen in the United States.
Tom Owens found out from his doctor he had chikungunya, a disease spread by mosquitoes.
For the last two years, Owens worked in Haiti as a police adviser. Now he is back home, still fighting the illness.
“There’s days I get up and I can barely walk,” he said. “I’m in pain.”
Owens says he did not know it back in April, but he was already infected. “I had high fever, body aches in my joints all over. My body felt like I had the flu.”
Doctors say it takes about six months to recover, but Owens’ wife Michelle worries that is only for healthier, younger people.
“This pain is unbelievable and it just breaks my heart,” Michelle Owens said. “Especially when I see him get up because he’s hunched over and you can tell he’s hurting. This is someone who never complains.”
But now he is only looking toward his difficult future.
“I’m sad,” he said. “I planned on working until I was 66 and now I can’t.”
But despite the difficulties the Owens say they find a way to laugh.
“I was like ‘yeah, I’m turning into a chicken,’” he said with a smile. “I mean, it’s not funny, but you gotta joke around about it sometimes.”
“We have to laugh about it or we cry about it because it’s completely changed our lives,” Michelle added.
Chikungunya is rarely fatal and experts estimate about 260,000 people worldwide were infected in this outbreak.
State health officials don’t have Tom Owens’ case in their count but say it typically takes a little more time for official confirmation. They will update their infectious disease totals on Tuesday.
Last week, the first officially confirmed case of chikungunya in Texas was reported in Williamson County.