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Flu takes tragic toll on Alberta man

October 28, 2014

Family learns influenza can be life-altering

Story by Mark Evans; Photo by Paul Rotzinger

Last December, Lance McNamara was shopping with his family when the 26-year-old Spruce Grove man started to feel sick with what seemed like a bad cold.

He thought he just needed a day or two of rest.

But that didn’t help. Because he didn’t have a cold.

Lance kept getting sicker and breathing became increasingly difficult. Eventually, he was admitted to the Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton where he was diagnosed with H1N1 influenza. His life, and the lives of his loved ones, were about to change.

Lance McNamara“I went in to see him and, at first, it didn’t seem too bad – he was writing things down on a piece of paper,” says Irene, Lance’s mother. “Then the next thing I knew it was critical.”

Lance developed multi-organ failure and, for the next week, he was sedated and ventilated.

As Lance began to come off the sedation, hospital staff discovered he was still unable to move. A series of neurological tests determined that influenza (and the severe complications he suffered as a result) had caused him to develop Guillain Barré Syndrome, a condition that causes paralysis.

Although most people recover from Guillain Barré Syndrome symptoms within two weeks, for Lance, it’s been much more serious, resulting in paralysis from his neck down. It has also robbed him of his ability to speak.

Today, he remains at Misericordia Community Hospital.

“It’s been a devastating, life-altering experience for Lance,” says nurse practitioner Kim Scherr, who has treated Lance since he arrived at hospital.

“He went from being a healthy, young, 26-year-old guy with a young child and a fiancée with everything to live for, to being someone who is currently bed-ridden, essentially a functional quadriplegic, who relies on others to feed him, to clothe him, to care for him every day.”

Lance is slowly regaining some speech through his work with a speech language pathologist. He uses a letter board to communicate with his family.

“It’s not as difficult now that he’s able to somehow communicate with me, even if it is with the board,” says fiancée Kelsey Lindberg. “There were quite a few months when he couldn’t even make or form a sound or letter. At that point, it was really challenging because something would be bothering him and the only way we had to communicate was his tongue. He’d move it one way for ‘yes’ and one way was ‘no.’ ”

Adds Irene: “He cannot scratch when he is itchy or wipe his nose. Everything that I used to have to do when he was little, I am now doing again. Every day, I wish it was me and not him. He has his whole life to look forward to.”

His family is still stunned at the toll that influenza has taken on Lance.

“Who gets that sick from the flu?” says his brother Ryan. “Who stops talking and stops moving because they got the flu? It can take away your whole life … It’s so difficult to wrap your head around it.”

The family is grappling with the fact that Lance didn’t get his influenza immunization last year, and wondering how things could have turned out differently had he taken the time to get vaccinated.

“I wish it wouldn’t have taken something like this for me realize influenza immunization is there for a reason. It’s important and it’s so simple and quick,” says Lindberg. “I’d do anything to not see someone else go through this.”

Adds Ryan: “AHS encourages it and makes it readily accessible. It’s absolutely devastating to me that more people aren’t taking advantage of it. It’s not worth the risk.”