Family of Legionnaire’s disease patient describe devastating effects of illness

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CO-OP CITY, Bronx (PIX11) -- A dozen New Yorkers have been infected with Legionnaires Disease in the last month, and most of them live in the same community.

Its property managers have said they're doing all they can to kill off the bacteria that causes the potentially fatal disease, but the families of those infected warn that it can still spread, and that its effects can be fatal.

Even when they don't kill a patient, family members point out, the effects are devastating for a long time, possibly for life.

"All the muscles in his body shut down, his heart, lungs, obviously, kidneys," said Ronald Hines, Sr., 68, describing what happened to his son, Ronald Jr., 29, an avid jogger and workout devotee.

The senior Hines said that his son was not able to be interviewed for this story because of the effects of the disease, which kills up to 30 percent of people who contract it, according to the New York City Department of Health.

"He doesn't speak normally," Hines said, describing his son. "[His mother and I] can understand him, but he gets frustrated that he can't say the words he'd normally be able to say and be understood."

The disease spread quickly after Ronald Jr. was diagnosed on Dec. 4. "His fever went from 99 to 103.6 in a twelve hour period," said his father, adding, "Thank God he wasn't taken away from us. Before I pursue legal [recourse] and going down that road, I want to get my son back."

Ronald Hines, Jr. had been in the hospital for nine days because of the illness, and almost had to have a breathing tube inserted into his trachea because his breathing and swallowing had become so problematic, according to his family. He's now undergoing physical therapy, which allows him to walk short distances and do basic exercises, in sharp contrast to what he's used to.

Legionella, the bacteria that caused his condition, thrives in warm water, and has been traced to a cooling tower facility for the electrical and heating systems of all of Co-op City. It serves the home of the Hines Family, and 15,000 other apartments, including those of seven other Co-op City families in which a relative has gotten sick.

River Bay Corporation, which manages the Co-op City affordable housing complex, has told residents that it shut down the cooling tower on Jan. 10 for a thorough chlorine-based decontamination that's still underway.

Still, questions remain among Co-op City residents, such as, exactly who are their neighbors who've gotten sick? PIX11 News informed resident Nettie Gotlinsky that someone in her building was among the infected.

"It's scary," Gotlinsky said, about having not received any notice or warning about a Legionnaires carrier being so close to home. "That's bad, because we all use the same convectors, and it comes through the water."

Specifically, the disease is contracted by breathing in the bacteria through water vapor, according to the Dept. of Health. It cannot be contracted through human contact.

Meanwhile, the families of the sick don't know who all of the other infected people are, either in Co-op City or elsewhere in the Bronx. It's not clear if the four cases diagnosed outside of Co-op City were people who had visited the community. In fact, the Hines Family had just learned Tuesday evening that there were seven other Co-op City families besides theirs with an infected loved one.

The lack of knowledge about the other families has made it impossible for them to share information among themselves, or with other, as yet uninfected neighbors, to warn them of the need to get help before minor symptoms worsen.

"Within 48 hours," Hines said, "you can be torn down to where you can't even talk. You can't communicate. You can't walk."

He and other neighbors pointed out that River Bay Corporation had taken over the property management contract for Co-op City just three months ago, after another company, Marion Scott Real Estate, had managed the property for 15 years.

On Tuesday, Marion Scott petitioned the state to allow it to resume management. Residents who spoke with PIX11 News about the development, including Ronald Hines, Sr., said they preferred River Bay Corporation. It had managed Co-op City for many years prior to Marion Scott taking over, and later being dropped.

In any case, said Ronald Hines, Sr., "It took a lot of prayer from me and my family to get through it all."