Mystery virus sends young Houston-area man into organ failure

A family from Missouri City is encouraging others to seek quick treatment for symptoms that don't go away quickly after their son got a virus that shut down his organs.

Jacob Brooks, 22, was an accomplished athlete in high school, and his parents say he has always been healthy and never had underlying conditions. That's why they say they are still in a state of shock that an illness came close to claiming his life. They would like to make it clear that this illness was not COVID-19 or vaccine-related.


"At first, I just thought it was a flu and cough, that's what we went in for. And then doctors were doing their tests, and then they came in saying, ‘we need to get you to the hospital now,’" Jacob says.

That conversation quickly changed to urging the family to get Jacob to a heart center.

"Doctors told me I needed to make some calls, and I was wondering what that meant, so I called and told them I loved them, and then I hung up and that's when they put me down (sedation)," Jacob says.

"The doctor said it was a rare virus that they usually only see between kids 18 to 22 and most of them recover, but every once in a while, you'll have a case like Jacob's, and they don't know why. The virus has never really been identified and never been named. It was so severe, they took all his plasma out of his body and replaced it with new plasma," states Eugene Brooks, Jacob's dad.

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Jacob admits he felt bad, which is why he went to the emergency room, but he says he didn't have any heart-related symptoms, so he had no idea he was in heart failure.

"He just deteriorated so fast. They put him on a device called ECMO, and it's basically a mechanical heart and lung. They also put him on dialysis because his kidneys were shutting down. They intubated him, and they automatically just put him to sleep. His heart was shocked, I think seven times, and even during the drive from Houston to San Antonio, they shocked his heart four times, in a matter of three hours during the drive," says Eugene.

They had to involve the ambulance because even though they live in the Houston area, Jacob's insurance benefits were out-of-network, so he was transferred by ambulance to the main Methodist Hospital in San Antonio. The family says they couldn't be more thankful that the hospital agreed to take on the challenge of saving their precious son's life.

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Jacob was quickly put on the heart and kidney transplant list, since his organs were failing.

"He has been quite a fighter! I mean, we're very proud of him for being such a fighter that he's been through all of this and we've just been very prayerful throughout," says Jacob's mother, Kim James.

She's a lawyer who has been juggling her job in Houston and his care in San Antonio.

"We're just wanting the best in terms of medical care for Jacob. I will tell you that the care that we have received here in San Antonio has been unbelievable. I mean, unbelievable," says Kim. 

"They saved his life. They are incredible," remarks Eugene.

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This family is feeling a sense of history repeating itself, as Jacob's dad has had to undergo a transplant, as well. He's a three-time cancer survivor and underwent a liver transplant.

"I'm on social security disability because of that, so we of course financially, it's very difficult, but we use credit cards and just whatever we have to do," says Eugene.

Their friends set up a fund to help them raise money to pay for all of the expenses, especially since most transplant patients are asked to raise at least a quarter of a million dollars!

While they're going through this tough time, they are sharing their experience to help others. They want to give this advice.

"We are in the position of other parents thinking this could happen to anybody. He was an otherwise healthy 22-year-old, doing what 22-year-olds do and then here we are in a life or death situation. So, that's something I want to just caution all parents: when you hear that cough or that sneeze or that whatever you thought it was, just go get help, even if it's 12 o'clock at night, and you think it's just a cough, maybe it's not," says an encouraging Kim.

Jacob got his life-saving match just a few days before his 23rd birthday, which is an incredible birthday gift, and will remain in the hospital to fully recover.

Again, the family could really use our community's support. To find out how you can help, click here.