Hi all. I plan to blog about my Dads death for a few times. I want to document this while it's fresh in my mind.
As some of you know my Dad passed away.
On January 13, 2009 my Dad was having trouble breathing and went to the Drs office. They subsequently made him to go the emergency room. To make a long story short he was finally diagnosed that May with Pulmonary Fibrosis and Pulmonary Hypertension. It's rare to have both so I'm told. Basically not only were his lungs turning into scar tissue but he had high blood pressure in his pulmonary arteries which made his heart have to work harder. He was on oxygen and was fairly functional. He would go and get coffee. He and Mom would go to eat. He went to rehab 3 times a week and after he got on the lung transplant list he went 5 days a week. His illness though made me realize how much energy it takes just to get a shower.
In the summer of 2009 he had a stint put in his heart. This helped. I am not sure exactly when but he started doing the testing to be put on a lung transplant list.
When he was first asked he said "I've lived my life, someone younger could use those lungs." On another visit the Dr. said "what if you were the only person who was a match to those lungs?" So he and my Mom forged ahead with the testing.
On November 4, 2010 he was officially put on the lung transplant list. I won't go into detail but let me tell you it's a lot of testing and counseling and meetings to get put on those lists. All of it makes sense but wow. During all of this my Dads reply was "I'm ready." My Mom did everything she could to help him and support him.
Everything was going ok, relatively speaking, until this early March. His left lung collapsed. We didn't know it at that time, but this was the beginning of the end. Dad was in the hospital back home and then transferred to St. Louis Barnes Jewish Hospital (where he was on the transplant list). First he was in ICU then transferred to a regular room, then back to ICU.
I had planned to go out there on Thursday March 24th and that week of work was terrible. I wanted to leave so bad but knew I needed to get things in order. On the 23rd that Wed Dad was in such poor shape they were going to put him on an Echmo (SP?) machine. It was a machine that would filter and oxygenate his blood. It was risky because he could only stay on it for 4-5 days. This was our last option until they could find lungs. Luckily, at 5:30am on March 24th my Mom called and said they had lungs. I dropped off the pugs at 8am, went to work to settle a few things and headed for St. Louis.
I arrived about 2pm. My Dad was in ICU and he was grasping for air. He laid on a bed still except his upper body which was heaving up and down. He looked like an out of shape or out of breath athlete. I got to see him for a few minutes and then they rushed him off to surgery.
Around 11pm we were able to go back and see him. He was suppose to have had a double lung transplant and bypass surgery for his heart. He ended up with the right lung transplanted. Before any transplantation could occur they put him on the heart lung machine. A person can only be on this machine for 4 hours. Otherwise there is a risk of stroke, brain damage, etc. When they started the surgery a cannula was inserted and his aorta dissected. They way it was described was that the aorta is in layers and some of the layers tore which weakened the entire aorta. This took 2 hours to fix. It takes 1 1/2 hours to transplant each lung. So the Drs. decided to transplant 1 lung. Dad also didn't get the bypass. We were ok with all of this though because the bypass could happen at another time and he was alive.
The next morning he was having heart issues. He was on the maximum amount of medications to help his heart squeeze and also to keep his blood pressure up. The Drs. wanted to go back into surgery and unsuture his pericardium. The pericardium is the sac surrounding the heart. The physician who did the surgery sutured it up 1/2 way because Dad had a lung transplant. Normally the Dr. leaves the pericardium open in case of swelling. The surgery worked as they found some fluid and clots and this resulted in significant improvements immediately for my Dad.
From then on, Friday afternoon to Monday morning it was a waiting game. Dad was to rest. He was on paralytic medications to keep him still and heavy sedation. He was on other medications as well. Over the course of the 2 1/2 days he showed baby step improvement. He was slowly weaned off medications. The Drs. were constantly reminding us that he was very sick. One Dr. said it could be 2-3 weeks before he could be woken up.
To make a long story short, on Monday March 28th Dad woke up. He was still ventilated and was very very groggy but he was awake. He was able to nod and point. My Mom and I were thrilled. He told us he was hungry, which was a blessing because he was never hungry much since he got sick. We were able to talk to him. I told him I loved him, that I was proud of him. He joked with Mom and I about the nurses being mean to him and about being in pain. He told us and the nurses he wasn't in any pain.
My Mom and I both would come and go that day. We didn't want to wear him out. As long as we were in the room he tried to communicate with us. That evening he had some clotting issues and once those were taken care of Mom and I left. My last memory is of him laying there nodding with his eyes wide open when we joked about how he could handle some small oozing/bleeding after what he's been through and how happy he was just to be alive.
We called that evening about 11pm and the nurse told us that he was fine, they had (finally) started nutrition in his feeding tube. Mom and I were sure that once he started getting fed that he would really improve. He had a fighter attitude and was very strong mentally.
At 2:08am I got a phone call. When the phone rang I knew it was bad. The person on the phone said that his blood pressure dropped and they were performing CPR and Mom and I should come. I asked if he was Dead and she said no. I got up and told Mom. I panicked in my head. I tried not to in front of Mom but I hyperventilated while I was getting the car. We got to the ICU and there were a ton of people in his room. We went to a small room with 2 chairs and a couch. We waited for about 40 minutes. 3 physicians came in and one told us he had passed. I just sat there but I can still see my Moms face and her crying. The Drs were very nice and I could tell they were crushed. The Drs left and she and I went into see him one last time. She couldn't stay in there. I sat by him and touched his shoulder and talked to him a bit. I told him I was sorry, that I admired what he went through and how hard he fought to stay alive. I kissed his forehead. It's amazing how cold he was. I told him how happy I was that he could breathe deep and run free. I hoped he could now be with Koko our horse who passed last Sept. If I had thought I would have asked him to look after my Lilly who passed over the summer. I like to think she found him and gave him a very bitchy greeting. Aside from me, the only other person who liked her was my Dad. Anyway, after I talked to him I then got up and went to sign papers. Other nurses came over who had worked with Dad to hug us. We consented to an autopsy. I knew I would want to know why. At that time the Drs though his aorta had burst because his blood pressure dropped so quickly. I am still glad we did but I know it won't make anything less painful. We went back to the hotel, checked out and went home to Southern IL, about 2 hours south. In the hotel I panicked again and hyperventilated when talking to my Mom about how we will make it through this together.
I am an only child. I had a wonderful relationship with my Dad. I called home every day or they called me. The loss is devastating. It's a pain worse than anything I've ever felt. I am thankful for the relationship I had with him though. I have no regrets as I know he knew I loved him and cared for him. I said everything I wanted to say to him before he died. I have some guilt about not going home more often and about not going to the hospital sooner but I made those decisions with my parents and they were the right ones at the time. If I had known, I would have made different ones. Besides I can't go there and my Mom was very adamant that I don't have those thoughts or go there.
As of now I am in the denial stage. I know he's dead but it's as if it didn't really happen.
Richard Walker, age 67 of McClure, died March 29, 2011 in Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Richard was born on January 13, 1944 in Jonesboro, the son of William Henry and Elnora Elizabeth (Reynolds) Walker. He married Kaye Moore on April 5, 1968 in Cape Girardeau, MO.
Richard was a member of the Jonesboro Masonic Lodge 111, the Cairo Masonic Lodge 237, Ainad Shrine Temple of East St. Louis, Operating Engineers Local 318, a lifetime member of Sword of Bunker hill and the National Rifle Association, and other various organizations. He was of Baptist faith.
Survivors include his wife Kaye of McClure; a daughter, Stacy Walker of Muncie, IN; three brothers, Joe (Jan) Walker of Marion, Merle Walker of Jonesboro and John (Karen) Walker of Pawnee, IL. Richard was preceded in death by his parents William and Elnora Walker.
Funeral services for Mr. Richard Walker will be at 11:00 a.m. Friday, April 1, 2011 at the Rendleman & Hileman Funeral Home in Jonesboro with Rev. Randy Morgan officiating. Interment will be in the Lindsey Cemetery in McClure. Military honors will be conducted at the graveside by the Military Funeral Honors Team in Marion. Friends may call from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 31, 2011 at the Rendleman & Hileman Funeral Home in Jonesboro. Masonic services will be at 7:00 p.m. Thursday. Memorial contributions may be made to the Jonesboro Masonic Lodge 111. Envelopes will be available at the Rendleman & Hileman Funeral Home in Jonesboro.