Muncie Star Press
Published 8:42 AM EST Mar 1, 2019
MUNCIE, Ind. – Chad Walker was just your average family man two years ago. Looking at him today, you’d probably still say that about him.
Walker, an associate pastor at Yorktown Church of the Nazarene, and his wife Maggie grew up in the area, deciding to continue to put down roots. You would never realize today that Chad faced death nearly two years ago, at the age of 47, when what he thought was the flu turned into something much more severe.
In late September 2017, Walker felt sick. He was short of breath but said he felt like he had the flu. His doctor gave him an inhaler, his vitals were fine and he thought he would be right as rain in a few days.
Instead, new symptoms surfaced. This would be the start of a life-changing journey.
He went to see a surgeon about his gallbladder, because that was one possibility for his symptoms. By the first week of October, his legs, ankles and feet were so swollen that he couldn’t tie his own shoes.
It was then that doctors gave him news that completely blindsided his family. Chad was facing heart failure at only 47 years old.
“I was like how can this be?” Walker said. “I’d never had any issues.”
According to Walker, his cardiologist said he was a very unusual case because he never had any issues prior to feeling ill in September.
“It was pretty puzzling for everyone,” Walker said.
Doctors at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital tried to figure out what medication they could give him because he lacked other common causes for heart failure.
Blood pressure medication would make his symptoms worse and other medications had similar unintended side effects.
Things only got worse from there. Fluttering feelings in his chest became more common, a nauseating experience, according to him. He would also reach spikes of 435 heart beats per minute. A normal resting heart rate for a person should be between 60-100 beats per minute.
Leaning on the family’s strong faith, Maggie said she rolled with the punches. For Chad, it was a roller coaster of emotions. In December, he thought there was a real possibility he would be dead before Christmas.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to see it,” Chad said with a heavy sigh. "I was thinking maybe it was my time to go."
He couldn’t walk, couldn’t really do anything that required any effort. His skin had turned gray in color from the lack of blood flow.
By the start of 2018, the doctors finally gave Chad a diagnosis: Myocarditis.
Essentially, he had had been infected with a normal virus (anything from strep throat to a common cold) and that virus had attacked his main heart muscle.
“We’d never heard of it before,” Maggie said.
Chad was transferred to IU Health Methodist Hospital to see cardiologists, and they gave him the news that would change his life forever. Chad was going to need a heart transplant, as his condition would only get worse.
“That’s not what I wanted to hear,” Chad said, but his family knew that something had to be done.
“By this point he was frail and could barely get around,” Maggie said. Chad’s weight dropped from 225 pounds to 170.
“At that point things were different,” Maggie said, referring to her husband’s physical state. Emotionally, the family was all over the place.
“I tried to live every day like it was my last one,” Chad said. “My faith really got me through that point.”
“(We knew) God's got this no matter what the outcome is,” Maggie added.
They leaned on their church family when they needed it, and even when they didn’t, the community at their church always seemed to be right behind them. Having that support kept the family moving, especially Maggie. Chad credited Maggie for his perseverance.
“She was always there supporting and encouraging,” Chad said. Maggie maintained the house and kept him going at the same time.
“She had so much on her plate but never let it show,” Chad said, looking over to his wife in the living room of their home.
Maggie and Chad have two boys, 19 and 8. They also have a 19-year-old nephew who lives with them.
The first part of 2018 was a blur of tests and worsening conditions.
Doctors gave Chad medication that forced constriction in his heart like it was supposed to. Once he was on that he felt better, but it couldn’t be a long-term solution. It was only to get his health back so he could receive a transplant.
This was a double-edged sword, because it made Chad feel better, as if he was on the mend, but it was just a temporary solution and did not eliminate the need for a transplant.
Surgeons thought that they had a heart for Chad by the end of July.
The family was on its way to Fort Wayne to help decorate for a wedding. While driving up I-69 with all of the decorations in the back of the family Jeep, they were told that the person ahead of Chad on the transplant list might not be able to get the heart.
“We were beside ourselves,” Maggie said. The family transferred the decorations to a friend’s car along the highway and turned around headed to Indianapolis.
After a flurry of tests and more, they were told that Chad wouldn’t be getting the heart, but that they wanted to keep him at the ready for when the next one became available. This kept him in the ICU from the end of July until September waiting for his heart.
“It seemed like an eternity for me, but there are people waiting up there for a heart that wait much longer,” Chad said. The family knew that if Chad stayed at the hospital he would be a higher priority on the transplant list, so they had eventually planned on doing that anyways; this just forced their hand.
Chad’s hospital stay was the second test of his faith since December 2017, when he accepted his possible death.
Staying in the ICU was difficult because there were a lot of other patients who didn't make it. Chad watched them all. Bribing nurses with candy, working on puzzles to keep busy and trying not to bother his wife who was left balancing their family in Yorktown and a husband on a long-term stay in an Indianapolis hospital.
Their church family continued to support them throughout. Prayer requests and cards with words of support poured in from across the state from people that the Walkers didn’t even know.
“It’s been amazing because we haven’t had a need for anything,” Maggie said. “Sometimes there is just no words to say how you felt. It is very overwhelming.”
More than 475 people showed up for a family benefit in Yorktown after Chad returned home following surgery.
Chad eventually got his transplant in September 2018. The surgery took 6-8 hours, but complications in the days and weeks after led to new scares and frustrations.
Within a few days of the transplant, Chad began to feel ill again. By the end of the first week, he called Maggie saying that something wasn’t right.
He blacked out during physical therapy. Then he collapsed again during therapy, and doctors began to run more tests. Maggie received a call from the hospital. Things weren’t looking good and she needed to get there right away. Chad’s condition had worsened and he coded after more episodes. No one was sure why.
“We just got through all this and I’m not ready, God,” Maggie recalled saying.
She notified family and friends, all while Chad ended up going into another surgery because of complications involving both blood clots and internal bleeding around the heart. Things were corrected by the surgeons, but less than a week later she was notified there were problems again. Another surgery followed.
Miraculously, rehab after those surgeries went quickly, and Chad was home by Halloween.
“That in itself is testimony for why we believe what we believe,” Chad said.
Holidays are bittersweet now, especially this year. Chad said he is thankful for the gift of life and a second chance, but he knows that someone else’s loved one isn’t there.
“It makes it a little bit harder to enjoy holidays,” Chad said.
Chad’s been working through cardiac rehab at Ball hospital, and he’s thankful for it every day. He takes every day one step at a time and looks forward to the small victories like returning to church, going to the grocery and more.
“It’s going to be a long process,” Chad said.
His next goal is the get back to the outdoors, returning to hunting and as a long-term goal he wants to run the 2020 mini marathon in Indianapolis.
“Don’t take life for granted,” Chad said, referencing the movie Rocky and a line about there is no tomorrow and what we have is the here and now. “Cherish every moment that you have.”