Bob Burkhalter

NICK NIKKILA

Rosburg resident Bob Burkhalter is recovering in a Portland hospital after contracting Legionnaires Disease while vacationing in Mexico. He had a close call with the airborne bacteria, which can lead to pneumonia and is responsible for an estimated 8,000 to 18,000 hospitalizations a year in the U.S. On Sunday, Dec. 5, Burkhalter, a Korean War veteran, was presented with an American flag and a Quilt of Valor by Commander Ken Elliott and Adjutant Nick Nikkila from American Legion Post 111. The quilt was made by one-time Naselle resident Ruth Torppa Miller who, thus far, has made over 30 such quilts for local veterans.

PORTLAND — A recent vacation in Melaque, Mexico, with family and friends nearly turned fatal for long-time Rosburg resident Bob Burkhalter.

Three weeks into their scheduled four-week stay, Burkhalter contracted Legionnaires Disease.

“We have been going to Melaque for 20 years without a problem. One day I was fine and the next day I was practically helpless,” said Burkhalter, who is now recovering in Portland’s Providence Hospital.

According to wife, Lois Burkhalter, flights out of Manzanillo, Mexico, to Portland only occur on three days each week. Luckily, with cooperation from Alaska Airlines, she was able to reserve seats for the next day.

“If we had to wait another two days for the next flight, I think my return would have been in a box,” said Burkhalter from his hospital bed.

It was a harrowing return flight for the Burkhalters that included a stopover in Los Angeles. With the help of a fellow passenger, Lois was able to get her husband off the plane and into a wheelchair.

Lois had notified daughter Arlene who was waiting for them at the Portland airport.

“We picked Providence Hospital since it was the closest,” said Arlene.

“It was easy to see Dad was in bad shape and we decided the fastest way to get him there was to take him ourselves and not wait for an ambulance. Upon arrival, the doctors were quickly able to diagnose his condition as Legionnaires Disease and begin the needed treatment.”

Burkhalter has been in the hospital since Dec. 11 and is now undergoing rehabilitation to build up lost strength in his legs.

He is anticipating release from the hospital on Thursday or Friday.

At age 87 and living with congestive heart disease, Burkhalter was probably the most susceptible among the group to contract Legionnaires.

While he was the first to do so, he was not the only one in their family group. His brother and sister-in-law remained in Melaque for the full four weeks and upon their return to Olympia were also diagnosed with the disease and are undergoing treatment.

Since both families were staying in the same lodging, blame for the disease points toward the facility’s air conditioning system.

Throughout her husband’s hospital stay, Lois has been staying about a block and a half from the hospital and walking to the hospital each morning.

One morning, she was accosted by an unknown woman, who appeared to be undergoing some emotional trauma, and suffered a blow to the back of her head.

It’s easy to see why both Burkhalters are eagerly looking forward to returning to their home in Rosburg.

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