Personal Story: Living Through Malaria
The following is a personal story from Peace Corps Volunteer Ann Paisley Chandler, who barely survived malaria.
I had never felt like this before. I wasn’t just sick, with fever and a headache, I felt detached from myself. I was on a stretcher in an ambulance from Civitavecchia to Ospedale Belcolle in Viterbo, Italy. I was gasping for air. I couldn’t breathe. I was dying. I knew that.
At the end of my tour with the Peace Corps in West Africa, I became sick with malaria while traveling in Italy. My “flu-like” symptoms, not treated, led to anemia, disorientation, hypotension, toxic shock, hallucinations, double pneumonia, blood transfusions, 24-hour kidney dialysis, 100% respirator due to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a feeding tube, coma, and all of my organs shutting down one by one.
According to my Italian doctors, a 5-10% chance of survival.
After two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit and when finally some perception of the severity of my condition was regained, the pain became emotional as well as physical. Love and prayers from my family and friends around the world strengthened me and made me brave. I knew that I must use this experience as a catalyst for future contributions. My compassion for others in difficult places had grown.
The truth is anti-malarial agents do not act as a true prophylaxis. Anti-malarials do not prevent initial malaria infection but act later on parasites after their release from the maturation phase in the liver. A better way to think of malaria “prophylaxis” is suppressive therapy. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, and certainly not the typical ex-patriot, I lived in conditions quite conducive to malaria transmission. In this environment, one is almost certain to be bitten by Anopheles mosquitoes and will therefore develop a parasite level in the bloodstream. But, strict anti-malarial compliance will help determine if one has a low parasite level or a parasite level of 5%, which kills 1 in 5 people infected with P. falciparum, the most fatal malaria parasite species. A parasite level of 5% kills 20% of patients.
My parasite level was 22%.
The Anopheles mosquito bites from dusk to dawn. Always use a mosquito net, which should be treated with permethrin. Taking precautions, in combination with malaria medicine, offers the greatest chance of avoiding a life-threatening case of malaria. After all, denying malaria parasites access to the bloodstream is better than suppressing malaria parasites already there.
Malaria is not just a tropical fever; it was a crisis to my very existence. A child in Africa dies from malaria every 45 seconds. Malaria is preventable, and with proper medication, treatable. Please join Malaria No More and me to help make malaria no more.
Ann Paisley Chandler holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Wofford College. Chandler is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana, West Africa.