The heart to live on

Walter Dullemond was struck down by a sudden illness, one that the doctors had no explanation for.

Walter Dullemond is back home with his wife Mehrnaz in Pitt Meadows.

Walter Dullemond’s ordeal began with a nagging cough, a tickle in his throat that refused to subside.

Not one to complain, the father of two chose to ignore it.

Soon he had a fever and symptoms that felt like flu. He was coughing so hard he broke a rib.

“He’s just the kind of guy who didn’t want to go to a doctor,” says Walter’s wife Mehrnaz, especially for something as silly as the flu.

By the time Walter finally saw a doctor, he was immediately dispatched to the emergency room at Royal Columbia Hospital.

Mehrnaz remembers the exact date that her family’s life turned upside down, setting off two years that have tried and tested their love.

“March 21, 2011,” says Mehrnaz.

Walter, healthy and 47, was struck down by a sudden illness, one that the doctors had no explanation for. All they could tell the family was that his heart was no longer functioning, its muscle slowly deteriorating, unable to pump blood or maintain a normal rhythm.

Walter was transferred to St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, where doctors installed a left ventricular assist device to help pump his heart.

“There’s always a twist,” says Mehrnaz, explaining how at every turn during Walter’s illness they’ve encountered road blocks. She’s grown tired of hearing that Walter’s symptoms and reactions are “rare.”

Six months after the assist device was installed, things started to go downhill again.

“The machine was working OK, but something was still attacking my heart,” says Walter.

By the time he was rushed to St. Paul’s Hospital on March 28, 2012, he was pronounced dead, but then revived and put on life support.

Doctors told Mehrnaz if Walter had arrived a half hour later, he wouldn’t have lived.

That day, Mehrnaz took a deep breath. The doctors told her to begin planning Walter’s funeral.

“I had to call his family. That was hard.”

As days went by, Walter miraculously survived. He was put on a transplant list and spent the better part of 2012 clutching a pager.

If Walter didn’t have a heart by March 2013, he would be too sick for a transplant.

“There was no hope and they would not give him a heart because his body would not survive the operation,” says Mehrnaz.

A week before Christmas, Walter couldn’t even walk anymore. As the date loomed, all the family could do was pray.

On Feb. 6, the family got the phone call. Walter was rushed to St. Paul’s, where he got a new heart.

It was initially a little too big to fit into his chest. And while in hospital, he had an allergic reaction to an anti-clotting drug. “See,” says Mehrnaz. “More twists. We are strong, but God tests you.”

Walter returned to their home in Pitt Meadows on March 20.

Barely home, Walter started getting headaches and began throwing up.

He initially thought he was reacting to medication, but when the symptoms persisted for three weeks, he went back to St. Paul’s.

He had meningitis and would remain in hospital till mid-September.

Mehrnaz drove there every day.

The car broke down, the roof leaked, the fridge broke down. She got a bylaw ticket from the city because the grass was overgrown.

Still, Walter and Mehrnaz are thankful.

Though the family is faced with selling their house and struggling to stay afloat while chipping away at a line of credit, there isn’t anything they can’t overcome now.

“Life has been challenging, but we are still grateful,” says Walter, who worked as a consultant for the food industry before falling ill.

Friends and family have flooded them with support and even held a fundraiser last year for them, much to Walter’s chagrin.

“I don’t like being the centre of attention,” he says.

Doctors still haven’t determined what caused Walter’s heart to fail. It could have been viral, or auto-immune.

To the Dullemonds, the mystery doesn’t matter. All that does is that Walter survived.

He is slowly getting better. His heart is still pumping.

“You have to focus on the positive side. Things can always be worse,” says Walter.

 

Donate

• Friends have set up a trust account to help the Dullemond family at TD Canada Trust. Account number 0234-6513695. Donations can be made to any TD branch.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VIDEO: fire destroys Pitt Meadows outbuilding

Three RVs are write-offs following Saturday night blaze

B.C. families financially affected by pandemic eligible for grocery gift cards

Program open to struggling families in Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley communities

‘Each step is a prayer’: Ojibwe man will walk from Hope to Vancouver Island for Indigenous healing, reconciliation

James Taylor departs Sept. 20, returns to Saanich in five days for sacred fire

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 20 to 26

Rabbit Day, Hobbit Day and One-Hit Wonder Day are all coming up this week

SHARE: Pre-smoke the sunset illuminated the skies in Pitt Meadows

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon

B.C. or Ontario? Residential school survivors fight move of court battle

It’s now up to Ontario’s Court of Appeal to sort out the venue question

B.C. transportation minister will not seek re-election

Claire Trevena has held the position since 2017

Young B.C. cancer survivor rides 105-km with Terry Fox’s brother

Jacob Bredenhof and Darrell Fox’s cycling trek raises almost $90,000 for cancer research

VIDEO: Shots fired outside Langley gas station that was scene of 2018 homicide

No reports of injuries in Saturday evening incident

B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program

Rally is part of the Amnesty for Undocumented Workers Campaign led by the Migrant Workers Centre

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Preparations underway for pandemic election in Saskatchewan and maybe B.C.

Administrators in B.C. and around the country are also looking to expand voting by mail during the pandemic

Nearly 20 per cent of COVID-19 infections among health-care workers by late July

WHO acknowledged the possibility that COVID-19 might be spread in the air under certain conditions

Ferry riders say lower fares are what’s most needed to improve service

Provincial government announces findings of public engagement process

Most Read