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Jury verdict bittersweet for West Nile virus sufferer in Cuero

By Sonny Long
Aug. 17, 2012 at 3:17 a.m.
Updated Aug. 18, 2012 at 3:18 a.m.


Billy Nami can't celebrate.

Despite being awarded $980,000 Thursday by a DeWitt County jury for contracting West Nile virus while working for Union Pacific Railroad in 2008, the 62-year-old Cuero man isn't overjoyed.

"It's bittersweet," Nami said. "I just found out last week I have kidney failure. That's why I say it's bittersweet. I may not live to see a penny of it, but God willing I will. I'm praying he'll help me. I'm trying to keep my mind positive."

Nami, who worked for Union Pacific for more than 30 years, said that in 2008, he didn't know anything about West Nile virus.

"I was shocked it came from a mosquito. I had no idea about it," he said. "People are more aware now especially with people dying."



First symptoms

Nami was closer to death than he realized on Oct. 22, 2008.

After battling flu-like symptoms for several weeks, Nami began to suffer through bouts of being extremely hot, then cool, then repeating the same.

Nami's wife also noticed the lunch she packed for him every day was often going uneaten.

"One day at work, I remember being really hot all day. I felt weak, but I kept working," Nami said.

On the drive home from Bloomington to Cuero, Nami kept reaching into his ice chest and putting ice on his face.

"I was out of it," he said. "I hate to say this, but I don't remember driving home."

He sat on the couch and didn't move until his daughter, Sarah Nami, found him hours later.

"She said she kept calling me and I never would answer. She found me just sitting there with my head down," Nami said.



Hospital stay

Sarah and her mother, Kathryn Nami, got Billy, who had a temperature of 103, on his feet and to the hospital.

After two days in Cuero Community Hospital suffering from convulsions and tremors, Nami was transferred to DeTar Hospital in Victoria.

"For a long time, they didn't know what was wrong with me," he said.

He was released on Oct. 31 still suffering from a fever and was later told he had developed encephalitis.

"They say the first five days are critical, and I survived," he said. "Somebody upstairs was looking after me."



The pain

"There's physical pain, but the worst is the mental part. Knowing you can't do things you used to do. I get so tired," Nami said.

"I was a strong fellow and did everything," he said. "Now I get weak. Everything wears me out."

Including a constantly stiff neck and headaches, Nami said much of the physical pain comes when he falls because of the vertigo he developed because of the West Nile virus.



Company fight

Nami said he didn't want to sue Union Pacific, but faced with the loss of insurance coverage at the end of the year, he felt he had no choice.

"I have nothing against the company itself. I worked there 30 years," he said. "But the people at the company wouldn't deal with me. They dropped the ball. I gave them every opportunity. No one would even talk to me. No one ever came to see me.

"What choice do you have when backed into a corner?"

The jury decided Union Pacific was negligent in failing to warn Nami about the threat of West Nile virus in Brazoria County, where he was working at the time, said his attorney Michael Sheppard, of Cuero. Marc Zito, of Houston, assisted Sheppard on behalf of Nami.

The jury attributed 80 percent of the negligence to Union Pacific Railroad and 20 percent to Nami.

Union Pacific Railroad spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza said the company planned to appeal the jury's decision.

"While we sympathize with Mr. Nami's unfortunate illness, we are disappointed with the jury's decision to find Union Pacific responsible for his contraction of West Nile virus," she said. "Mr. Nami contracted the illness in 2008, the same year that Hurricane Ike brought heavy rains to the Gulf Coast area.

"Stagnant waters created mosquito breeding grounds in numerous areas including backyards, storm drains and rain gutters.

"We plan to appeal the jury's decision, since Mr. Nami was unable to show he was bitten by a mosquito on our property or while he was working for the railroad," Espinoza said.

Although an appeal may be looming, Nami is glad that, for now, the case has been resolved.

"I'm glad it's over," Nami said. "But you can't buy your health."

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