'She was my hero': Loved ones honor former US Sen. Kay Hagan's life at funeral

NORTH CAROLINA — Family and friends gathered Sunday to remember former North Carolina U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, who died of a rare virus at the age of 66.

Hagan's funeral service was held Sunday at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Greensboro. The church service was open to the public and was followed by a visitation with the family.

Her former colleague in the Senate Claire McCaskill from Missouri and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper delivered eulogies, but the most heartfelt came from her daughter.

"Mom was my best friend. She was my hero and my inspiration," her daughter Carrie Hagan said. "But, she was everyone's best  friend after a quick conversation and everyone's hero after learning about her service to her state and our nation."

Hagan died last Monday at age 66, about three years after she contracted a rare virus spread from ticks to humans, leading to brain inflammation that made it difficult for her to speak and walk.

The Democrat was elected to the U.S. Senate in a 2008 after a 10-year state legislative career. Hagan served one term before losing to Republican Thom Tillis in 2014.

Former NC Sen. Kay Hagan dead following illness linked to tick bite

Former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat who represented North Carolina, died Monday at age 66 following a prolonged illness.

Hagan died at her home in Greensboro, her family said in a statement.

"Kay meant everything to us, and we were honored to share her with the people of North Carolina whom she cared for and fought for so passionately as an elected official," the statement read. "Most of all, we already miss her humor and spirit as the hub of our family, a role she loved more than anything. Nobody could light up a room and make people feel welcome like Kay. "

Hagan died of encephalitis, or brain inflammation, caused by Powassan virus, a rare virus spread from ticks to humans, her former Senate spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said.

She was elected in 2008 and served from 2009 to 2015 before she was defeated by Republican Thom Tillis.

She also spent a decade serving in the North Carolina General Assembly.


"Kristin and I are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our dear friend Senator Kay Hagan. I’ve known Kay since our days in the legislature together. Kay was a fierce advocate for North Carolina, and she represented our state with courage and grace her entire career.

She made it a mission to inspire young people - especially young girls - to enter public service, and she served as a role model to so many. North Carolina is mourning one of our best today."

Cooper described Hagan as a fierce advocate for the state and an inspiration for young girls to enter public service.

She was born in Shelby, North Carolina.

During her time in the Senate, she cast one of the deciding votes for the Affordable Care Act. She served on the Armed Services Committee and helped prevent cuts to tuition assistance programs for veterans.

In a statement, President Barack Obama said he appreciated her "reasoned, pragmatic voice."

"As president, I deeply appreciated her reasoned, pragmatic voice, whether we were working together to pass the Affordable Care Act, reform Wall Street, support working families or just make Americans' lives a little better. Her record is one all public servants would do well to follow, and her perspective is one we'll sorely miss."

In June, Hagan made a rare public appearance at a groundbreaking ceremony for an airport where she helped gain funding.

She helped break ground at Piedmont Triad International Airport's new air traffic control tower. The airport executive director said at the time that Hagan visited the airport during her time as a senator and helped alert others in Washington to the need for a new tower.

In addition to her husband, Hagan is survived by three children: Jeanette Hagan, Tilden Hagan and Carrie Hagan Stewart.

Weiner said Tuesday that Hagan's funeral service will be 2 p.m. Sunday at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Greensboro. The church service is open to the public and will be followed by a visitation with the family.

Encephalitis caused by Powassan Virus

Channel 9 took a closer look at the rare, but dangerous virus that look Hagan's life. It was a tiny killer found in just about all backyards, but led to Hagan's three year health battle and her death.

A tick infected her with a relatively rare, but dangerous virus called Powassan virus. Cases are typically found in Northeastern states, but can show up in the South.

It is so rare North Carolina had just one case between 2009 and 2018.

Hagan was rushed into the intensive care unit in December 2016. At the time, no one said why, and she would stay there for months.

In January 2017, doctors diagnosed her with encephalitis, but they still did not know what caused it. It was not until that February that doctors had a name -- Powassan virus.

Hagan left the hospital that July, but still received outpatient treatment. She largely stayed out of the public eye until her death on Monday.

Those who show symptoms of Powassan may at first have a fever and a headache. Then, the symptoms can get more severe such as confusion, difficulty speaking and seizures.

The virus can cause encephalitis, like in Hagan's case, and also meningitis. One in 10 of those with the more severe symptoms will not survive.

Those who do survive often need to be hospitalized to receive support for breathing, hydration and to reduce brain swelling. There is no treatment for this virus and there is no vaccine.

In 2016 when Hagan was infected, cases were soaring. There were 21 cases that year. The only year with more cases was 2017 with 33 cases.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.