Garfield Ridge Dad Fighting Back From West Nile; Seeks Help From Community
By Joan Hadac
Southwest Chicago Post
Editor and Publisher
For the last seven months, the tradesman has been flat on his back, felled by a mosquito bite that gave him West Nile encephalitis and left him completely paralyzed in a hospital bed set up in his Garfield Ridge home.
“My dad has always been an active man,” said his daughter, Ariana, 25, who along with her sister, Lindsey, 22, brother, Nick, 28, and mother, Marisa, provide care and hope for Jeff Walls. “Even after work, he’d use his skills to build things for himself and for others.”
Back in August, he came home from work more tired than usual and chalked it up to the summer heat. The next day, he went to work but came home early. In the days after that, his energy level continued to fall. He started experiencing double vision, was feverish and sweating and seemed to take a long time to formulate answers to questions.
Trips to the emergency room, as well as multiple blood tests, did not yield a diagnosis of West Nile Virus infection, Ariana said.
Doctors put him into a coma for his own protection. He lay there for three months, coming out “super slow” in the fall, his daughter recalled, saying that her dad’s case is one of the worst cases of West Nile-related disease ever documented in Illinois.
Encephalitis is a dangerous inflammation of the brain. It is a rare complication of West Nile Virus infection.
While there is no way to prove exactly where Jeff was bitten by a West Nile-infected mosquito—it could have been as close as his back yard or as far away a carpentry job on the other side of the city—his family took action that may have saved other people’s health or even lives. They called their local alderman and demanded that the City of Chicago spray insecticide in the neighborhood, which it had not yet done in 2016.
A limited amount of spraying was done in some sections of Garfield Ridge and Clearing in September.
Home at last about three weeks ago, Jeff is currently unable to perform even the simplest tasks that most people take for granted, including eating. He breathes with the assistance of a ventilator.
“He hates this,” Ariana said of her dad’s predicament. “It’s killing him that he is so inactive.”
Hired attendants typically work in the home 12 hours a day, with family members taking over the other half.
Medical bills have piled up and continue to do so, Ariana noted, with insurance covering only a portion.
In response, the family has launched a GoFundMe page that has raised about $22,000—with a goal of $100,000.
The family is hoping that publicity in and around Garfield Ridge—a part of Chicago known for its neighbor-to-neighbor generosity—will bring in more monetary donations online.
In addition to the immediate online appeal, the family is planning a face-to-face fundraiser for July at a restaurant or banquet hall. Details will be announced in the weeks ahead.