Rabies killed Marstons Mills man

by Symptom Advice on February 4, 2012

January 28, 2012

MARSTONS MILLS — for weeks, Marstons Mills residents wondered about the identity of the Barnstable man suffering from rabies in a Boston hospital.

At the tiny Liberty Hall community center in this picturesque village, people wondered, “Doesn’t anybody know who it is?” said Al Baker of the Marstons Mills Historical Society.

This week they learned the sad truth.

It was one of their own, Kevin A. Galvin, 63.

President of the Marstons Mills Historical Society and owner of a historic home on a pond in the center of the village, Galvin passed away Monday at Massachusetts General Hospital.

His death certificate, obtained at Boston City Hall Friday, said he died of rabies encephalitis after fighting the neurological virus for a month.

His death is the first time since 1935 that a Massachusetts resident has died of rabies acquired in the commonwealth. In 1983, a state resident died of the deadly virus after being exposed in Nigeria.

“It’s shocking,” Baker said Thursday. “Very sad and disheartening.”

The Cape Cod Times reported on Friday about Galvin’s legacy to the village where he had lived for 11 years. It did not mention the cause of death because reporters could not confirm it with state or local public health officials.

But for days it had been an open secret in Marstons Mills.

One woman who did not want to be named said she received an email about Galvin’s passing that said it was rabies.

“I was shocked because I’ve been following the story all along,” she said.

While Galvin was in the Boston hospital fighting for his life with his wife, Judith, by his side, few knew he was the anonymous Cape rabies victim making headlines after being bitten by a small brown bat.

“It was very top secret,” a board member at Liberty Hall, to which Galvin also belonged, said. The hall’s flag is flying at half staff.

“To the best of my knowledge, nobody knew,” Baker said. he said looking back, he now realizes why Galvin didn’t return his phone calls about printing some raffle tickets.

A computer software developer who marketed a product for catalog companies, Galvin was usually ready to help out any time, Baker said.

A man he identified only as an official “who’d be in the know,” told him Galvin was busy, Baker said.

Officials at the state Department of Public Health have maintained a news blackout recently on the rabies case they first publicized late last month.

Phone calls to DPH spokeswoman Jennifer Manley went straight to voice mail Friday, and neither she nor commissioner John Auerbach returned calls or emails.

Asked Thursday if the rabies victim had died, Manley said by phone, “We would never confirm that. At this time we don’t have to confirm it because of privacy.”

DPH officials first announced at the end of December that a Barnstable County man in his 60s was in critical condition with the deadly virus.

Then, a local public health official confirmed the victim was from the town of Barnstable.

Early this month state public health officials confirmed that the disease had been transmitted by the bite of a small brown bat of the Myotis species.

Although rabies is rare in the U.S., in most cases it is caused by bats.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta says only six cases were reported last year, of which five were fatal (a victim in California lived).

Galvin apparently was bitten in his Marstons Mills home, but didn’t know it until symptoms started showing.

Usually at that point, it’s too late to recover because the virus has invaded the brain, disrupting signals to vital body parts such as the heart and diaphragm, health officials say.

As of Jan. 14 — the date of the Times’ last published update on the case — the rabies victim remained in stable but critical condition in a comalike state at an unidentified Boston hospital, according to Barnstable Health Director Thomas McKean.

McKean did not return phone calls Friday. He’d said earlier in the week that family members had requested privacy.

Lee Mannillo, of the Cape Cod Rabies Task Force, confirmed recently that Galvin had undergone an innovative treatment called the “Milwaukee protocol.”

The treatment involves administering a cocktail of sedatives while allowing the body to produce natural antibodies to fight off the infection.

The protocol, developed by Dr. Rodney E. Willoughby at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, is credited for saving six lives since 2004.

But it is far more effective to give people bitten by rabid or suspicious animals a series of rabies shots before symptoms ever appear, health officials say.

Galvins’ siblings said they did not want to talk to the press about their brother’s death, and his wife indicated the same through a friend.

Galvin, who ran Galvin Associates software development company in Hingham for years, threw himself into the community life of Marstons Mills after moving there a little more than a decade ago.

He and Judith purchased the William Marston House, which dates from 1780 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

They turned it from an inn back into a private residence, but still allowed civic celebrations and an Easter church service to be held on the grounds.

Galvin served on the board of the Barnstable Land Trust until a few years ago and put his computer expertise to work digitizing records for the Marstons Mills Historical Society.

He kept a blog on the Marstons Mills River Herring Counting Project.

His funeral is being held today in South Weymouth. Burial will be at Mosswood Cemetery in Cotuit.

Michaela Harrington, Michelle Ng and Lian Parsons contributed to this story.

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