Friday, February 3, 2023

More than the flu: Family recovers after brush with life-threatening illness


Tracy Pesante thought she had the flu but ended up staying days in ICU with a rare case of bacterial meningitis. (Photo courtesy of Emilio Pesante)
Tracey Pesante thought she had the flu, but she wound up in the ICU, with a rare case of bacterial meningitis. (Photo courtesy of Emilio Pesante)

A few weekends ago, Tracey Pesante thought she had the flu. Then her husband, Emilio, found her lying on the floor.


“You’re there perfectly healthy with what you think is a 24-hour stomach bug and then you’re fighting for your life,” Emilio said.

Tracey, 37, is a mother of two children, Mackenzie, 10 and Jayden, 3. Emilio, 40, is a teacher in Newport News. On Jan. 6, Tracy wasn’t feeling well, according to Emilio.

She stayed home from her job at a credit union and even missed the funeral of a family friend. Tracey took care of herself. She got rest.

On Jan. 7, she was feeling better and only had a slight headache. But after she went upstairs to take a nap, Emilio heard a crash and ran to see what had happened.

He found Tracey in the closet.

“She couldn’t recognize who I was or where she was,” Emilio said. “That’s when I realized something was really wrong.”

Emilio called 911 and Tracey was taken to a hospital, where doctors looked to see if she had a brain bleed. After tests, though, they discovered she had bacterial meningitis.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord, according to the Mayo Clinic. The swelling can create symptoms such as fever, headache and a stiff neck. In the U.S., most meningitis comes from viral infections, but bacterial and fungal infections can also cause the illness.

Tracey was in the ICU on a ventilator for four days and then spent three days in a standard hospital room. She had a high fever, and doctors were worried about possible brain damage. By the eighth day, she was released into her family’s care.

Community support

The medical bills are an issue, though. The ICU costs around $15,000 per day, and insurance only covers so much, Emilio said.

Tracey has taken leave from work and Emilio has had to take time off from teaching to care for her.

“It can all happen so quickly that you don’t think about it,” Emilio said. “And then you’re a two-person income home all of a sudden staying afloat on just one paycheck.”

The Pesante family found community support after mom, Tracy, had to spend days in the ICU at the beginning on January. (Photo courtesy of Emilio Pesante)
The Pesante family found community support after Tracey spent days in the ICU in early January. (Photo courtesy of Emilio Pesante)

Friends of the Pesantes, John and Kari Musey, set up a Go Fund Me to help. Since it launched at the beginning of January, the campaign has raised $3,500 toward its $5,000 goal.

“We really wanted to give the family some security,” John Musey said. “We are helping look to the future so Emilio can focus on the present.”

The Pesantes are active in the community and many were concerned about Tracy, according to Musey. Emilio is a choral director for both his church and high school and he developed a choral college scholarship to send a student on to higher education this year. In addition, Emilio also leads a summer program for underprivileged children that inspires the students to support themselves physically and emotionally, Musey said.

Now, while Tracey recovers, her family and friends continue to support her family.

“The Pesantes are a family that give so much to the community and it’s amazing to see people come and rally around them in their time of need,” Musey said.

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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