BEND; Ore. -

The family of a Prineville-area man who's fighting for his life in the hospital after he got the plague, spoke out Thursday. Family members decided to release his name, Paul Gaylord, who remains in critical condition.

Gaylord was bitten by his cat, while trying to help take a mouse out of its mouth earlier this month. Covered in tubes and surrounded by machines, Gaylord is still fighting his battle with the plague.

His niece, Andrea Gibb, and his wife of 24 years, Debbie, said the sickness has been difficult for the family, who's been staying by Gaylord's side at St. Charles Medical Center-Bend.

"It's hard to fathom losing a loved one period, but when it's your husband, or your brother, or especially your child, no one should have to go through that," said Gibb.

Debbie declined to do an interview, shaken up after just seeing her husband put back on a ventilator in the hospital.

"It did get to a point where it did get very grave, and the doctor said that they had done all that they could do," Gibb said. "And they weren't sure he was going to pull through this."

But Gaylord made a turn for the better, for a moment.

Even though his recovery has been like a roller coaster, his family is holding on.

Crook County health officials say only about 10 to 15 people are sickened with the plague in the U.S. each year. Since 1995, only three cases have been reported in Oregon.

"To have somebody get sick in this way is pretty much the 'perfect storm,'" said Karen Yeargain of the Crook County Health Department. "What we do want to remind people is that plague is out there in rodent communities. It's not at high rates, but it's there in their fleas."

The state Health Department says only about 1 percent of fleas carry the plague. The body of the cat that bit Gaylord was sent to the Centers for Disease Control for testing, and samples were taken in the area around Gaylord's home.

"All of the other people that have been in contact with either the cat or this gentleman have been provided with antibiotics," said Yeargain. "None of them have become ill at this point. And they're all well outside that incubation period, so there's not likely to be anything more from this."

And while Gaylord clings to life, his family hopes he can hear their message.

"I love you, and our prayers are with you, and get better soon," said Gibb.

The family has set up a U.S. Bank account under Paul Gaylord's name for any community members who wish to donate. They are also hoping to build him a new, safer home and need supplies and materials. People can send information to donatetopaul@aol.com.