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Former NFL player infected with deadly virus after being bit by mosquito

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Paul Lacoste was once a beacon of healthy living and physical fitness.

An All-SEC linebacker at Mississippi State, Lacoste had a brief stint with the Indianapolis Colts in 2000 following a Canadian Football League All-Star appearance the year prior.

After leaving the game, Lacoste went back to his native Mississippi to work in the fitness industry and train athletes at all levels.

But now at the age of 43, Lacoste struggles with many of the mundane things in life after contracting the West Nile virus in 2012 from a mosquito bite, according to the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.

West Nile attacks the central nervous system, and since his diagnosis, Lacoste has battled kidney cancer, headaches, neck pain, full body tremors and fatigue.

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“It’s hard to believe that this is because a little ol’ mosquito bit him six years ago,” his wife, Lizzy, told the Clarion Ledger. “And it seems he’s been hurting more and more lately.”

For someone whose life revolves around physical fitness, this disease has been debilitating. Doctors have told Lacoste that he needs two hours of sleep for every hour of work that he does.

“I get so tired that I’ve fallen asleep in the parking lot, sitting behind the steering wheel of my car,” Lacoste says. “I’ve fallen asleep in my office, at the gym where I train. They know me so well there that if they see me asleep in a chair or on a couch, they just let me rest.”

Despite Lacoste still looking like a healthy former athlete, he certainly doesn’t feel that way and his physical appearance belies what’s going on inside his body.

“One of the doctors told Paul that while his body may look the same on the outside, he has an 80-year-old body on the inside,” Lizzy says. “That was pretty stunning to hear.”

Even six years after contracting West Nile, and being told by doctors that he is now clear of the virus, Lacoste still deals with the residual effects of the disease.

He was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2016 (doctors removed a tumor and he is now cancer free). Lacoste also has had more surgeries to get rid of infections and will likely have a weak immune system for the rest of his life.

He did, however, manage to find some good through all of this as he was baptized on his 40th birthday by a client of his who is also a pastor.

“So there is some good that has come from all of this,” Lacoste says. “If not for the West Nile, I would’ve never realized that God was knocking me down to get my attention. I would’ve never read the Bible. I would’ve never hosted a Bible study in our home like Lizzy and I do. We would’ve never taught first-grade Sunday School like we have.”

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Lacoste also wants to help others by educating them of the disease. He admits that he wasn’t that knowledgeable about it even while he had the disease as he didn’t want to know his prognosis.

“If I can get it and it can do this to me, no one is immune from it. … Now I read [West Nile studies] and I know that even if you get over West Nile, it could decrease your lifespan because of the residual effects it causes,” he says. “That’s a sobering thought that I have to live with.”

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Ross Kelly has been a sportswriter since 2009.
Ross Kelly has been a sportswriter since 2009 and previously worked for ESPN, CBS and STATS Inc. A native of Louisiana, Ross now resides in Houston.
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