Jordan Herbst started feeling sick on his way home from a vacation earlier this month but didn't think much of it.
"I had really high fever, feeling very achy, and had difficulty breathing and moving," said the 14-year-old Bishop resident from his bed at UC Davis Children's Hospital on Tuesday. "I thought I had a very bad flu or something."
Within days, he was transported by LifeLine from Reno to Sacramento with a rare case of hantavirus. At the medical center, he relied on a special heart and lung machine reserved for the most critical medical cases.
"I was waiting to hear that he was dead," said his father, David Herbst, 59, a research biologist, tears welling up at the memory Tuesday.
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a respiratory illness that comes from contact with the feces, saliva or urine of rodents.
Once a person is exposed, the incubation period ranges from one to five weeks. Early symptoms include high fever, aches and breathing problems. If left untreated, the disease has a 30 to 40 percent fatality rate.
In a high-profile outbreak last year, three visitors to Yosemite National Park died from hantavirus and seven others survived after being infected.
There were 30 reported cases across the country in 2012. This year, the U.S. has had five reported cases before Jordan's.
"When the patient gets sick, they get sick very fast," said Dean Blumberg, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children's Hospital. "If you can keep them alive for a few days, they get better very fast."
That happened with Jordan. On Aug. 10, he was starting to feel feverish and achy on the drive home from Oregon, where he and his mother, Katharine Allen, 48, were vacationing.
It's not clear how Jordan contracted the disease, but his mother believes he might have been exposed while exploring a mining cave near their home in Bishop before the trip.
In the middle of the night on Aug. 11, he threw up and had a fever, with temperatures reaching 103 to 104 degrees. On Aug. 12, he lost his appetite, felt achy and slept most of the day.
That night, his mother put her hand on his chest and found his heart racing, and noticed that he was having a hard time breathing.
The next day, a nurse at the Rural Health Clinic suggested that Jordan come in.
"I credit her for saving his life," said Allen. She learned later that the nurse had been a hantavirus patient.
By that time, Jordan felt lightheaded and had to have help walking. Once he got to the clinic, they found both his blood pressure and his blood oxygen level were low.
Within 15 minutes, Allen said the clinic decided that Jordan needed to go to Northern Inyo Hospital. There, Allen recalled she was told Jordan had a "fluffy X-ray" meaning that his lungs were severely compromised.
By this time, Jordan's dad had rushed to the hospital. "When I saw him, his breathing was rapid and shallow," said Herbst.
Herbst said 15 minutes after his arrival, he was told Jordan had to be flown to Renown Hospital in Reno. "I was there at 11 a.m. and by 2 p.m. I was at the airport," he recalled.
The parents stayed with Jordan that night in Reno, but early Aug. 14, the medical staff gave them bad news.
"They said they were not able to stabilize him and that the only recourse was to try something else the ECMO (extracorporal membrane oxygenation)," said Herbst. Jordan would have to fly to the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento to get the treatment.
ECMO is basically a heart and lung machine.
"It doesn't cure anything," said Robert Pretzlaff, chief of pediatric critical care medicine at UC Davis Children's Hospital. "It allows the lungs or heart to rest, so they can heal themselves."
But the machines are used only in critical situations. "In order to get an ECMO, you have to have 75 to 80 percent of dying," said Pretzlaff. "It is a resource-intensive and high-risk procedure."
Once ECMO is used, the chances of the patient surviving are doubled.
John Holcroft, an assistant professor of pediatric critical care medicine, said Jordan had gone into cardiac arrest when the plastic tubes for the ECMO machine were inserted into his neck.
"We had to do six minutes of CPR," he said.
On Aug. 17, 60 hours after being hooked up to ECMO, Jordan had recovered enough to have it removed and was able to be put on a ventilator.
On Aug. 21, the test results came back: positive for hantavirus. The next day, he opened his eyes, "giving a look of 'being there,' finally," said Herbst.
He was expected to be discharged from the hospital this week.
Jordan already missed two weeks of school he's a freshman at Bishop Union High School but he will have teachers come to his home for class. He will also have to undergo physical therapy as he wants to join the snowboard team at school as well as the swim team.
Blumberg said that he expects Jordan to make a full recovery.
"It's not so often that a patient is on ECMO, and a few days later, you're talking to him," he said. "It was stressful, but it was a good outcome."
Call The Bee's Tillie Fong, (916) 321-1006.
Editor's note: This story was changed Aug. 28 to correct the spelling of Dean Blumberg's name, and Aug. 29 to correct his title.