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Family of flu victim, 23, devastated

Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 1/13/14

Family of flu victim, 23, devastated

Relatives wonder if steps were missed in treatment of SR man’s H1N1 virus

The family of a 23-year-old Santa Rosa man who died last week after he contracted the H1N1 flu virus expressed concern Saturday that his illness was not recognized in time to possibly save his life.

Matthew “Matty” Walker was admitted to Kaiser Permanente’s hospital in Santa Rosa on Dec. 27 after he called 911 to report he was having trouble breathing. He had been sent home from the hospital the day before after being seen in the emergency room and diagnosed with pneumonia.

Walker’s family said Kaiser doctors didn’t discover that the El Molino High School graduate had H1N1 until after he was put into a medically induced coma prior to his death Wednesday. By then, they said, it was too late.

“There is some anger,” said Ruth Bell, Matthew Walker’s sister, on Saturday. “They didn’t know it was H1N1 until he was in a coma. It’s a devastating loss.”

Kaiser spokesman Carl Campbell on Saturday said that he could not comment on the case, citing patient confidentiality.

Walker is one of four people who have died in the most recent outbreak of the flu on the North Coast. The H1N1 strain has health officials concerned because it appears to be affecting all ages and not just people who are vulnerable or frail.

Still, Walker’s case stands out because of his age and his apparent vitality, and the fact he first sought medical treatment 13 days before his death.

The youngest of five, Walker grew up in Occidental and enjoyed windsurfing and skateboarding. He also was a talented musician who liked to play the harmonica and saxophone, his sister said.

“He was a real positive person,” she said. “A don’t worry-be-happy kind of kid. Everyone loved him.”

Connie Petersen, human resources director at G&G Market in Santa Rosa, where Walker worked, said he only missed a few days of work due to illness in the two years he had been employed at the West College Avenue store. He started off as a bagger and had worked in the produce department for the past six months.

“He was an excellent employee,” Petersen said. “He was really friendly. All the customers liked him.”

Walker also worked for his father, Cliff, who owns a floor cleaning company.

Petersen said Walker called in sick just before Christmas and never returned to work.

“For a 23-year-old, a healthy guy, to be gone in not even two weeks — that’s just weird,” she said.

Walker’s Facebook page provides a wrenching timeline of his declining health over the holidays leading up to his death last week. On Dec. 22, he posted that he had a sore throat, cough, runny nose, nausea and a headache, plus no food at the Santa Rosa apartment he shared with two roommates.

“The things that make me miss home . . . Like moms home made chicken noodle soup!” he wrote.

Friends and family posted messages of encouragement. But the day after Christmas, Walker reported spending a “MISERABLE” six hours at Kaiser’s emergency room, where he said he was diagnosed with pneumonia in his left lung.

He also uploaded a photo of himself at the hospital looking pale and tired, with the caption: “Lying on gurney with 103 temp today. No fun. . .”

It appears that was his last post.

Bell said that after her brother was admitted to the hospital Dec. 27, his cough became so violent that doctors had to sedate him. He went into cardiac arrest. In an induced coma, his brain started swelling.

Trevor Bell, Walker’s brother-in-law, said the care Walker received in the ICU at Kaiser was “exceptional.” But the family wonders if some steps were missed prior to Walker reaching that stage of care.

They also acknowledged that Walker could have taken better care of himself. He hadn’t been eating well prior to getting sick, or getting enough sleep, perhaps as a result of caffeine he was consuming.

Walker is among nine local residents who have been diagnosed with severe cases of the flu, according to Sonoma County health officials. A severe flu case is one where a patient either is admitted to an intensive care unit or dies.

Health officials are urging people to get flu shots, saying that the majority of people admitted to intensive care facilities in Sonoma County to be treated for the disease were not vaccinated.

Officials said the vaccine being given for the flu will combat the current strain of H1N1. It takes about two weeks for a person to build immunity once the vaccine is received.

By DEREK MOORE and MATT BROWN


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