Geoff Dunsire will have a long, hard road to recovery to walk again, but he finally has hope after a medical ordeal that has lasted most of an agonizing year.
When he was 13, Geoff contracted an incurable liver disease from a standard hepatitis B vaccine. He has had to take immune suppressants since.
It took a year in and out of Children’s Hospital, but he became a healthy boy, and then a young man determined to wring the pleasure out every moment of his life, whether skiing black diamond runs, climbing The Chief, playing hockey, or bucking guys off the mechanical bull at Roosters, where he ran the controls. He plays guitar, piano and the sax. The 26-year-old enjoyed a bit of a beer-commercial lifestyle, but with his liver disease, always avoided drinking and drugs.
Last August, he suffered flu-type symptoms and a high temperature. When he became yellow and jaundiced-looking, his roommate took him to Royal Columbian Hospital. He was then transferred to Vancouver General Hospital, in end-stage liver failure.
Then came an avalanche of health problems.
Within days, Geoff suffered complete liver failure, then kidney failure. He was on 24-hour dialysis, and put on a waiting list for a liver transplant.
The toxins in his body were affecting his brain. Dunsire didn’t know where he was, or what was going on.
“It wasn’t him anymore,” said his mother Tracey, who has been at his side throughout. “He was confused and short tempered.”
Geoff fell into a coma, and was on life support.
On Sept. 20, 2013, Geoff received his liver transplant.
“He rocked it,” said Tracey. “If he didn’t have any of these other issues, he would have been home living his normal life.”
An infection in his blood attacked his heart and brain before it could be cleared.
He got an infection behind his eyes, and “came within a millimetre of going blind.”
His parents and sisters came to see him daily.
“I didn’t hear his voice for four months,” said Tracey.
Three times, the family was told to gather to see Geoff one last time. But they didn’t lose hope.
“We never for one minute believed he wasn’t going to pull through this,” said Tracey.
The last big blow to Geoff was ICU-induced polyneuropathy and myopathy – muscle weakness and neurological dysfunction, which can develop in patients in intensive care.
It left him paralyzed from the neck down and confused.
He shrunk from a fit 195 pounds to 125 pounds.
“My mother said he looked like a Holocaust survivor,” said Tracey.
He was getting physiotherapy at G.F. Strong at UBC, and a frustrating time followed for the family.
Geoff was suffering back pain, and given everything from methadone to oxycodone to cope with it.
Busy hospital staff would miss his anti-rejection medication. He would get transferred to VGH for dialysis, and sometimes staff would forget to send his meds.
“Things like that happened on a regular basis,” said Tracey. “If Geoff didn’t have us as advocates every day, I truly believe he wouldn’t be alive today.”
Although she emphasized much of the help her son received at G.F. Strong was incredibly beneficial, she could not deny that Dunsire was starting to live the life of a “drug addict,” and his rehab was not progressing.
Finally, the family noticed that some of the pain in his back was associated with his dialysis. The staff doing dialysis had not been informed that Jeff was urinating normally, and had been taking too much fluid from him.
His chart was changed, and that night Jeff was sitting up in bed texting on his cell phone, nearly pain free.
Finally, he stabilized. He went with family to Grouse Mountain and the Richmond Night Market. They took him to movies – anything to get him out doing normal things.
“He’s like our old Geoff. The fog has started to lift. He’s got a sense of humour. He’s smiling and laughing for the first time in 11 months. It’s Geoff back.”
G.F. Strong was ready to send him home, with minimal progress in his rehab.
The family dug in their heels, saying his condition hadn’t allowed him to do proper rehabilitation. He hadn’t been able to move without pain.
A television news team heard the story, and came and did a feature about his plight.
Geoff was recently transferred from Vancouver Coastal Health to Fraser Health, and his recovery has shifted into overdrive at the Yale Road Centre in Surrey. He sees a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, and has a room to himself. He likes the staff, which is comprised of many young men his own age, who relate to him.
He’s getting dialysis at Surrey Memorial, and there is some optimism there that his kidneys are recovering.
“We’ve been set back so many times ... but this seems really great,” said Tracey.
One day he will be sent home, and it will still be in a wheelchair.
He needs ramps, a hospital bed and other home renos and changes to make his home livable. He will eventually need a wheelchair accessible vehicle.
Now his struggle is financial. Geoff had no income for the first seven months of this year, and now qualifies for $95 per month. Bills have piled up.
The Happy Liver Society has arranged a fundraiser, and the goal is $25,000.
Online donations can be made at the site youcaring.com, under the title Help Geoff Get Back on His Feet. So far it has garnered $2,500.
A fundraiser for Geoff will be held at the Haney Hotel on Sept. 14, with raffle prizes and a silent auction from 4-8 p.m. with live entertainment.
Geoff will be there, and it will be his first visit back to Maple Ridge since his ordeal began a year ago.
“Geoff’s going to walk again,” said Tracey.
“He’s getting stronger every day. He just needs help to get there.”