Monday morning when Larry Walter wakes up he will begin his day with his normal routine because after two kidney transplants, 13 heart attacks and a coronary episode, not to mention countless medical situations, Walter knows the importance of taking care of oneself and a large part of that is his daily routine.
Walter also knows the importance of not taking anything for granted and helping others as he feels he has been helped by the prayers and well wishes of both his immediate and extended family and friends.
On Monday, Walter will do his best to help and educate others as he speaks to more than 100 educators at Warrenton High School on behalf of the Missouri Governor’s Council for Organ Donations.
In the second part of Walter’s story of recovery Walter’s wife Toni, who he refers to lovingly as his high school sweetheart and the person who keeps everyone in the family together, reflects on the 11 days when the couple and family faced a difficult road to recovery as Walter was hospitalized after suffering a cardiac arrest during which he had, in medical terms, died.
“My brother Lou (Atkinson) had decided to start a business in Smithton, for artisans and craftsmen, and my sister Anne (Pearce), myself and our spouses decided to become partners in the business, Toni Walter said as she began to tell the story of her husband’s cardiac arrest. “We had decided to open the business in Lennie Semkin’s old gas station in Smithton.
“After Lennie retired, he had rented the building to other individuals who kept it open as an auto body shop and repair station so we had a lot to do to clean the oil and grease and grime from the floors and in the building,” she added. “Most of my family were there helping including one of our son’s, J.R., but Larry hadn’t arrived yet.
“He got there around lunch time and so we decided to take a break and eat before we started back in,” Walter said. “After eating lunch at the station we started to work some more before we left to get ready for Mass and other family commitments.”
Walter said that the family were saying their good-byes and planning for the next work day when she looked at her husband and realized that her husband’s eyes had rolled in the back of his head.
“I saw Larry start to collapse as we all rushed to grab him,” Walter said. “We laid him on the floor and then he seized and started to turn purple from the chest up.
“His body went still and we couldn’t hear his heart beat or feel a pulse,” she added quietly. “J.R. immediately started CPR and my brother Johnny (Atkinson) did mouth to mouth, at one point J.R. thumped Larry’s chest very hard and the doctor’s told us later that may have been what saved his life.”
For 20 agonizing minutes the family waited for the ambulance to arrive.
Walter was transported to Bothwell Regional Health Center and immediately life-flighted to the Heart Institute at Boone Hospital in Columbia.
The initial diagnosis showed that the episode was not from a blockage but that Walter’s heart muscles had simply stopped.
“During the years that Larry had been on dialysis he had 13 heart attacks, many of which happened while he was receiving a treatment,” Walter continued. “They told us at Boone that he had a severe infection in his lungs from aspirating during his collapse.
“The doctors also told us that there were concerns about his neurological condition because he was out so long,” she said. “They thought the CPR kept his blood circulating and perhaps lessened the damage.”
Once again, the family found their silver lining when the doctors told them that there did not appear to be any damage to Walter’s kidney.
Even though Walter was taken to Boone County Hospital his nephrologist from the University of Missouri Columbia had been consulted and was keeping a watchful eye on Walter.
Nov. 5, the day of the episode, the family was told Walter had less than a 50/50 chance of survival.
“When we were told that I remember I just kept thinking and praying that after everything we couldn’t lose him,” Toni Walter said. “Larry was heavily sedated to help keep him calm and so he didn’t fight all the tubes and machines that were keeping him alive.
“He had a fever in part from the infection in his lungs he was diagnosed with double pneumonia,” she added. “But Larry is a fighter and at the end of day two we were told his chances had improved to 60/40 so we thought things were getting better.”
By day three of his hospitalization the family became even more optimistic as Walter has brought out of sedation and his chest tube was removed.
He was able to talk and respond to commands although at that time his short term memory seemed to be affected.
“Day four was an entirely different story,” Walter explained. “When Larry woke up he was having a lot of difficulty breathing and after a battery of more tests we were told he had congestive heart failure resulting from another heart attack.
“They took off more than two liters of fluid off his chest and were finally able to insert two new stints and open an old one with a laser treatment,” she added. “He had more blood following to his heart than he had for a very long time because they told us that everything (his arteries) was at least 70 to 80 percent blocked.
The couple was told then that Walter would need a pacemaker/defibrillator before leaving the hospital.
Before the device was implanted Walter would have to recover from his pneumonia and fever and a newly diagnosed sinus infection.
“They finally moved Larry from ICU to the cardiac ward on the fourth day,” Toni Walter said. “They were hoping to get him up and walking short distances if possible but he was on so many antibiotics and blood thinners that he would get such horrible nose bleeds and he was very uncomfortable for most of the day, but he would say that we would be okay and that he could deal with anything.
“After a few more days of his sinuses constantly bleeding, a nurse said the bleeding was “ridiculous” so at 11 at night a nose specialist and nurse came to his room and cauterized Larry’s sinuses.” she explained. “It took over an hour and a half, but finally around one (a.m.) Larry and I finally fell asleep. “
The next days were as uneventful as possible considering all he had been through and so on Nov. 14, nine days after his cardiac arrest Walter was in surgery to receive his pacemaker and defibrillator.
“The next few days were spent watching and waiting,” Walter explained. “They had to make several adjustments to his pacemaker because at times it would slow and they would need to regulate it frequently.
“The doctors were also concerned about the massive amount of antibiotics they had been giving him intravenously for the infections and his double pneumonia and the effects that may have on his kidney,” she added. “But on Nov. 16, 11 days after he was life-flighted to the hospital he finally was released to come home.”
The family had many reasons to be grateful Nov. 24, Thanksgiving, as their husband and father was with them in the couple’s home in Smithton.
The couple has more reasons to be thankful as Larry Walter continues to do well despite his medical journey.
His life now includes working as an administrative assistant in the human resource department at State Fair Community College, spending time with his family and friends and his speaking engagements throughout the state.
“Larry’s life has made all of us realize that we need to appreciate each and everyday,” Toni Walter said. “When we wake up we are grateful for all we have been given and know we have been blessed.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484.