Health Pandemic victim copes with losing two feet, seven fingers
Des McDonald sits in his wheelchair at home in Goulds Thursday. He contracted H1N1 last November and has now lost both feet and some fingers due to complications from the illness. Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Des McDonald says a lot of people can hardly believe that it was H1N1 flu that ravaged his body and left him in a wheelchair.
Eight months after he checked into hospital, McDonald has had seven fingers partially amputated and both legs cut off below his knees.
He's remarkably upbeat and positive, even knowing that at some point in the future, he'll have to go in for surgery to remove his thumbs.
Speaking to the Telegram this week, McDonald said he wishes people better understood the toll H1N1 took on some patients.
"There were people drastically effected, but the numbers weren't …" he says, trailing off.
He says he'd like people to realize that after the "big racket last fall" died down, some serious victims are still facing the aftermath.
McDonald's co-workers at the St. John's city depot are doing what they can to rally around him.
Some of the people he used to work with are organizing a motorcycle "Poker Ride" to raise money for him.
Riders can purchase a deck of cards at the Goulds Public Library between 9 and 10:30 a.m. today, and travel a route to get cards drawn at different checkpoints.
The rider with the best hand at the end of the day wins a donated prize package.
"At work they did take up a couple collections for him during the time he's been off, but myself and a couple of the other fellas were talking about it, and said what can we do to help him out?" says Peter Ryan, who worked at the depot with McDonald.
"A large number of the fellas that work with the city depot do have a motorcycle, so we figured it'd be a good way to raise a few dollars."
The ride will take people past McDonald's house in the Goulds.
Hopefully, the bikes riding past the house will be something to watch and enjoy; for a man who's going through a serious medical battle, McDonald's biggest complaint seems to be boredom.
"I can't stay in the house (forever), I'll go nuts," he says. "If the weather is nice, I'll be out in the yard. Like, even though I can't do anything down in the garage, I'll be down in the garage."
McDonald said before the illness, he was healthy and active, focusing on work and raising his three-year-old daughter. (Now, he says, she gets up in his lap and rides around in the powered wheelchair with him.)
With a case of the flu, he went to the hospital in mid-November.
"That night I went in, and then they didn't think that (I was) going to pull through that night," he said. "That went on for a week or more."
He was put on a ventilator and into an induced coma.
As the illness got worse, his circulation suffered.
"All your blood concentrates on the central part of your body - your main organs - and leaves your hands and your feet. So this is how you pay up for it. It probably saved your life, but ..." McDonald said.
At the worst of it, he had pneumonia, blood infection and he was on dialysis.
"(I was) outside the glass looking in," McDonald's wife, Vicki, said. "Now, they let me in, after so long. I took it as they didn't know which way he was going to turn."
Eventually he pulled through, and on Christmas Eve, he was transferred out of the intensive care unit.
Six months later, McDonald is fairly positive - "It's like this: I have no choice. What are you going to do?" he said.
Before too much longer, he hopes to get a set of prosthetic legs, and get back to work. In the meantime, he says he's thankful his co-workers are organizing the ride, although it came as a bit of surprise when he heard about it. He didn't really know about it until it was already in full swing.
"I suppose they didn't need to bother me with it, they were going to do it anyway," he says.
Anyone who would like to participate or make a donation can contact Brian Clancey at 576-6137.