A soldier is in stable condition at a hospital in Tampa, Fla., after three weeks battling a life-threatening tropical bacterial disease that struck during relief work in Haiti.
Army Warrant Officer Chris Lust's case of leptospirosis -- a bacterial infection common after contact with contaminated water in impoverished areas -- improved over the weekend, but the medicine he's on makes it difficult for him to eat and his progress has slowed, said his mother, Lorilei Lust of Stuart, Fla.
"I'm feeling almost 100 percent better than before," Chris Lust said.
Chris Lust, 33, was deployed to Port-au-Prince last month after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck just outside the city on Jan. 12. He arrived the day before the first aftershock struck the city.
In early February, he started having spells of vomiting, extreme nausea, migraine headaches and strong sensitivity to light, he said.
Once he began urinating blood, he knew he needed help.
He was treated aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort, off the Haitian coast, he said.
The Army reassessed his condition and shipped him to Tampa's James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, where his fever spiked, ranging from 102 to 105 degrees, his mother said.
"I was really achy, sore everywhere and felt real cold," Chris Lust said. "It could be 90 degrees, and it felt like I was in a room of less than 10 degrees."
Lust spent about a week in the intensive-care unit where he experienced intense tremors -- fits of cold spell spasms, even while he was wearing six blankets, he said.
"It was pretty bad," his mother said. "Even though he's almost 34 years old, it's still your kid lying there shaking. I was totally helpless to help him."
Lorilei Lust was shocked when she first heard about her son's illness two weeks ago, and her concerns heightened when doctors couldn't provide a diagnosis.
"I didn't know any of the details. I didn't know what was going on," she said. "I knew when you hear 'medevaced' it's going to be serious."
While Lust was receiving IV medication, his left arm became highly infected and the blood in that hand clotted on a major vein, she said. The clot ballooned his left hand several times larger than his right.
Doctors thought the condition could have been some form of malaria, and then decided it might be dengue, a potentially fatal tropical fever, she said.
They struggled to diagnose Lust's condition, but eventually named it leptospirosis, she said.
The disease is common in impoverished and polluted places, especially those that have experienced natural disasters. Contact with stagnant water, which usually has been contaminated with rat urine or feces, can transfer the infection, said Dr. Moti Ramgopal of Associates in Infectious Diseases in Fort Pierce, Fla.
The treatment is generally fairly straightforward if the infection is detected early, Ramgopal said.
"The doctor described it as having a flu, but 100 times worse," Lorilei Lust said. "He couldn't have the lights on in his room because of the headaches. He'd have tremors that were like seizures. He'd shake so bad, the metal bed would start shaking."
While working in Haiti, Chris Lust recalled a much different standard of living than he and his American counterparts were used to.
One woman, for example, was cleaning out rice for dinner. She shuffled a bit to the left, went to the bathroom on the ground, and went back to work, he said.
"The stagnant water and stagnant waste situation, sometimes you don't know what you are walking in," Lust said.
Lust's condition took a turn for the better late last week, and doctors moved him out of intensive care on Saturday. His tremors stopped, and his temperature held at 101.4 on Saturday, his mother said.
He is scheduled to be sent soon to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. There, he'll have three months of light duty, his mother said.
"I'm looking forward to a change right now," he said. "It feels I've been in this hospital for two months."
Army officials could not comment because of privacy rules.