Family says Littleton grandmother died from West Nile virus

"She really instilled in us to just live each day to the fullest, be positive, love other people," Karen Kennedy's daughter, Kelly Glenn, said.
Published: Oct. 3, 2023 at 2:57 PM MDT
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LITTLETON, Colo. — Colorado is having the worst West Nile virus outbreak in the U.S. this year according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). So far, 543 cases have been reported in Colorado, including 31 people who have died.

The family of 78-year-old Karen Kennedy told 9NEWS she was one of them. Kennedy died with family by her side on Sept. 16.

“She really instilled in us to just live each day to the fullest be positive, love other people,” her daughter Kelly Glenn said. “We never ever thought this was what mom’s story would be.”

Kennedy is remembered as a woman that always celebrated family. Her other daughter, Laura Downie, captured a photo of Kennedy at her granddaughters homecoming parade just days before she died.

A photo of Kennedy just days before she died.
A photo of Kennedy just days before she died.(Austyn Knox)

“I had no idea the next time I would see her she would be like totally confused and barely know who I was,” Downie said.

Downie found her mother on her couch, disoriented, after she did not answer her phone. She was rushed to the hospital. Downie said doctors first thought Kennedy had pneumonia and sepsis.

“And then they said we think she might have West Nile virus and brain inflammation as a result of it,” she explained. “This is a woman not even a week before, we were at lunches and parades and now they’re saying she wasn’t going to make it and so, I mean we had to make the toughest decision of our lives to take her off of life support,” Downie added as she began to cry.

So far this year, Colorado has seen the most cases in the entire country. In fact, Colorado has recorded more than double the number of cases of No. 2 California, which has 156, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In total nationwide, there have been 1,419 West Nile virus disease cases in 44 states.

“It is shocking to me because I didn’t know that a mosquito that could be something that would be so powerful,” Glenn explained. “So even if it was just one person it’s important that people know that this is going on.”

Karen was a cancer survivor. She also got to watch her grandchildren grow, her garage wall was covered with height markings over the last decades. Her absence may hurt but her family hopes, for others, it has meaning.

A series of photos of Kennedy.
A series of photos of Kennedy.(Austyn Knox)

“She was a nurse, she was very into healthcare,” Downie said. “So she would want people to know, let my story do something for others,” Glenn added.

“Maybe hearing this story some people will put on some mosquito repellent and take this really seriously because it took our mom,” Downie continued as she cried.

Despite decades of research, there is still no cure for West Nile virus. Doctors can try and treat some of the symptoms but there is no way to reverse the virus. There’s also no vaccine to prevent the virus in humans.