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Jeanna Giese 16-years later: Surviving rabies to build a beautiful life

Posted at 6:31 PM, Jul 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-19 19:31:29-04

FOX CITIES, Wis. (NBC 26) -- It was nearly two decades ago when a teenager from Wisconsin became the first known survivor of rabies, who didn't receive a lifesaving vaccination. And while many in northeastern Wisconsin may remember Jeanna Giese's story, tonight there is a new chapter in her life that we're excited to share.

You could chalk it up to luck, advancements in science, or just a loving team that was constantly in her corner; but one thing is for certain Jenna Giese is fortunate to be alive.

"It's going to be 17-years this September. 17-years ago I'd never guess I'd be here," says Giese at her Fox Cities home.

At just 15-years-old Giese was bitten by a bat, she contracted rabies, and doctors gave her and her family a difficult choice.

"Basically, they told my parents you can let her die here at the hospital or you can take her home and let her die there. Or we can try this experiment. We don't know if it's going to work but we want to put her in a coma."

Giese was put into an induced coma for two weeks while feeding and breathing tubes kept her alive. During that time her body fought off the infection, but when she woke almost nothing was the same.

"I was basically a 15-year-old newborn. I couldn't talk, I couldn't move my arms, I couldn't walk, couldn't sit up on my own."

The road to recovery for the teenager would last for years.

"I just kept pushing myself," says Giese.

The support from her family, community, and strangers alike helped Giese achieve a high school diploma, a bachelor's degree, and the confidence that she had nearly lost through the hardships.

"Having everyone believe in me helped me believe in myself."

After achieving her educational goals Giese's competitive side started emerging once again. The former high school athlete says she got heavily involved in sled dog racing and loved it.

"I have never lost my sense of loving nature and animals even with what happened to me. I still.... animals are a huge chunk of my life."

Additionally, Giese found herself pursuing another once unimaginable goal, walking down the aisle and starting a family.

"I wouldn't have my husband, I wouldn't have my kids, I wouldn't have my dogs," says Giese describing the life she's managed to build.

This young woman, who once was expected not to make it to her 16th birthday now has a husband and three healthy kids, a beautiful home in the Fox Cities, and the memories of a fulfilling life lived; all because she never stopped pushing herself.

"There were many times when I wanted to give up and just stop trying. If I would have, I don't even want to imagine where I would be right now," adds Giese.