Rock climber, triathlete had to learn how to walk again after coming down with flu

LOVELAND, Colo. – Shelly Walter and her husband Tom are as outdoorsy as they come. They are avid rock climbers, runners, kayakers, cyclists, triathletes and travelers. Shelly also has a passion for piano.

Earlier in the year, all of that was put on hold and put in jeopardy.

On March 20th Shelly started coming down with flu-like symptoms including a cough, fever and general feeling of illness.

“She was obviously miserable all of the time,” Tom said. “The severity of her cough and the persistence of it was bothering me quite a bit.”

Shelly and Tom are both registered nurses. After two days of symptoms, they decided she needed to go to urgent care to get checked out.

“They tested me for influenza which is a simple nasal swab test,” Shelly said. “They just said you’re positive for Influenza B. Go home and rest.”

The next day, Tom says Shelly’s health took a nosedive.

“They did a chest x-ray there and she just had pneumonia everywhere, which had not shown up [on the x-ray] the day before at all,” he said.

She was admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital and within hours had gone into respiratory failure. She was put on a ventilator and spent the next three weeks in a medically induced coma.

“I had about every complication that you can get with this. I was at death’s door several times,” Shelly said.

She developed sepsis, a collapsed lung and a laundry list of other complications stemming from the flu.

“She was, at one point, they were telling me at about a twenty percent chance of survival. And that’s really horrible odds,” Tom said.

He had to start thinking about the possibility that Shelly would never come home. Tom says he didn’t realize how sick the common virus can make an otherwise healthy person.

“In maybe a week. That’s just unbelievable to me,” he said.

Shelly pulled through and after three weeks in a coma she began physical, occupational, cognitive and respiratory therapy.

“I had to relearn essentially how to walk,” she said.

She spent three weeks at Northern Colorado Rehabilitation Hospital regaining her motor skills and her strength. When she was discharged, she needed a walker to keep her balance. Shelly opted to use ski poles instead.

“I felt pretty invincible before this,” she said.

Shelly and Tom are hoping their story inspires others to take flu prevention seriously.

“I think it’s easy for us to get lax and pop something in our mouth at a party or something and maybe we should wash our hands after we’ve been out at least,” Shelly said.

They also want people to get the flu shot to help prevent the spread of the virus. Shelly got the flu shot in the Fall of 2017. However, that shot did not protect against Influenza B. She says the 2018 version does protect against the strain she came down with.

“Even with modern medicine you can get serious fast,” Shelly said. “It can cause you to get very sick very fast so do everything you can to prevent it.”

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