Family mourns West Nile virus death

Mike Walsh

The sudden death of a 63-year-old man left a Morgan Hill family
heartbroken, but determined to carry out his insistent
warnings.

All the time my husband was in the hospital, he kept saying, ‘I
can’t believe one mosquito did this to me. Spread the word. Tell
people to be careful.’ And that’s what we want do,

said Carol Walsh, 63.
The sudden death of a 63-year-old man left a Morgan Hill family heartbroken, but determined to carry out his insistent warnings.

“All the time my husband was in the hospital, he kept saying, ‘I can’t believe one mosquito did this to me. Spread the word. Tell people to be careful.’ And that’s what we want do,” said Carol Walsh, 63.

She recalls the sequence of events preceding her husband’s crippling battle with West Nile Virus that ended Nov. 5 – a battle that rendered him almost completely paralyzed.

“It took his calves,” she said. “Then he lost his arm … It took his muscles. It took his lungs.”

Her voice echoes with lingering traces of frustration and disbelief.

Mike and Carol Walsh lived in Morgan Hill for 15 years before moving to Madera-County in December 2000.

Three of their five daughters –Tammy Geer, 40, Shannon Pate, 38, and Laura Camacho, 37, currently live in Morgan Hill. Shana Walsh, 38, lives in Fresno and Andria Souza, 30, lives in Gilroy.

“My dad talked about getting the word out – daily,” said Souza.

Souza spoke admiringly of her father through tears as she retraced his ordeal, occasionally referring to him in present tense before correcting herself.

It was late July when Walsh developed what he thought to be a severe flu, or aggressive case of strep throat. His entire body ached and he had unexplainable muscle pains in his calves, thighs and lower back.

“One day he just woke up, and he said he felt like he had walked miles the day before,” said Souza.

The discomfort became such that Walsh’s wife took him to the doctor on a Sunday. Tests revealed Walsh had contracted an aggressive form of neuroinvasive West Nile virus, which causes swelling of the brain and spinal cord, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

“It’s a little bit shocking. It’s something you don’t know that can happen in the United States,” said Souza.

Camacho, the second youngest of the Walsh daughters, said her dad often went to rural areas to fly model airplanes, specifically Millerton Lake in Santa Clara County.

For humans, there have been 60 neuroinvasive and 36 non-neuroinvasive disease cases and two reported deaths as of Nov. 9 in the state of California, according to the CDC. The Times was unable to confirm if Walsh’s passing is included in the CDC’s numbers as of press time.

Carol said her husband – a strong, 6-foot-tall man who enjoyed water aerobics and flying model airplanes with a model airplane club – had been healthy up until then.

At the hand of this strange, immobilizing virus, however, his wife said he couldn’t lift two pounds. With the onset of paralysis, Walsh’s ability to function independently was impeded. Doctors put him on life support.

If news the culprit was a bug that originated halfway around the globe wasn’t unsettling enough, Walsh and her husband were dually discouraged by lack of treatments.

“Nobody had answers for us,” said Carol Walsh. “The doctor said it had to go through its course. And you go, ‘What course is that?’ And they go, ‘We don’t know.’ ”

Though multiple doctors had been working on Walsh’s case, Souza said the physicians’ experience with the virus was minimal at best.

“It’s so frightening because you trust doctors, you look to them for answers, but they can’t tell you anything. They can’t give you any information,” she said. “All they can say is, ‘This is what we know today.’ ”

Walsh began to recover at one point, but the sickness left him paralyzed from the waist down.

“He was coming to terms with that,” said Souza. “He was realizing he could live like that … he was so happy and so optimistic.”

Eventually Walsh regained enough strength to come home Nov. 3, but returned to the hospital the following day. His condition appeared to be stable, however, Souza said.

“The doctors were so confident he would make it. There was no talk of him not going to make it,” she said, her voice breaking.

About 11:15 p.m., Walsh told his daughters he was tired. He knew his girls were tired, too. His mother-in-law had passed away that day, and he told his daughters to be with their mom. “I’m going to see you in the morning,” he assured. Walsh died at 4:25 a.m., Nov. 5, at Kaiser Permanente in Fresno.

A day after his death, the family was already turning their grief to thoughts of resolution.

Walsh said her husband insistently told her, “We got to spread the word.”

Carol Walsh’s resolved hope is that someday, there would be more answers.

Souza and her family have talked about taking progressive action in Michael Walsh’s honor, with ideas ranging from a repellent product line to a foundation or yearly event with proceeds going to West Nile Virus research.

“Absolutely we are serious,” said Souza, adding they’ll probably need help from local chemists in developing repellent formulas. “We’re coming up with a lot of concepts.”

Carol Walsh, who’s also coping with the passing of her mother, said she sees some good arising through the trials of loss.

Be it candles, perfume, spray or medicated towelettes to help arm against mosquitos, “anything that will protect people” is foremost on her mind.

Making sure his family did something to spread awareness about protecting against the virus “was definitely my dad’s biggest concern and goal,” she said.

Souza said she and her family intend to do just that.

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