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A year of resilience and recovery
Daryl Walker, a BeWell Coach, has been a certified health coach since 2013 and has been with BeWell since 2019.
“I absolutely love what I do. It gives me an opportunity to talk to participants about their personal health journeys and how I can best support and encourage them to meet their goals. I am grateful I get the chance to do this work.”
Daryl also works with another organization on medical weight management. On the evening of January 15, 2020, he was giving a presentation for this organization when he experienced a new and unfamiliar discomfort in his chest. He felt that the discomfort was serious and that he needed to get it looked at immediately. He turned the presentation over to his assistant and drove to the emergency room (ER). He texted his partner Jim that he was having a medical emergency and to meet at the hospital.
“I recall I could park the car successfully, but I don’t remember walking into the ER. I woke up three days later on the tenth floor at Sutter Health hospital.”
A CAT scan showed burst blood vessels in his aorta. He was bleeding internally, with blood pooling and surrounding his heart. Daryl has a family history of hypertension and was under the care of a doctor to monitor and manage the condition. His hypertension had been stable for years. He had lost 50 pounds and maintained his weight loss over the past decade. He exercised several times a week, including yoga and high-intensity interval training, and meditated every day to manage his stress. Because he was so healthy and had managed his hypertension for so long, he made the decision to stop his hypertension medication without consulting his doctor, which now both he and his doctor believe was a contributing factor to his cardiac event.
“I learned to not go off your medication, especially if you have a chronic condition, without first consulting your doctor. I also learned that if you’re having any physical symptoms, don’t delay, and go to a doctor as soon as possible to have it diagnosed.”
With Daryl’s cardiac event, the risk of mortality drastically increases with each passing hour. He underwent an emergency aortic dissection and spent seven hours in surgery to repair his aorta. While the surgery was successful, his journey was just beginning, as the recovery would take most of 2020.
At first he needed help with daily living, including meals, moving around and bathing. Fortunately, he had the support and love of a dedicated partner to help him during his recovery. His partner also listened to his frustrations about wanting to heal faster, made sure he rested and didn’t overexert himself, and shared Daryl’s concerns about his health.
“We’ve been together fifteen years so there’s a good core foundation of love, support and caring for and being there for each other through challenging events in our lives. We’re very supportive of each other’s passions and careers, share the same values, and when we disagree, we navigate it with love and kindness.”
Daryl started with in-home therapy in February. His hospital therapy was cut short due to the onset of COVID, leaving him to figure things out on his own.
“I mainly walked to strengthen my body, which I did for several months. Through this time, I got the opportunity to witness the amazing healing of the body.”
He started physical therapy in May when COVID restrictions were lifted and completed eight weeks of cardiac rehab. He started to feel better in early summer. The pep was back in his step, and he began to think about going back to work.
However, in early June, his mother, who had fallen ill and been admitted to the hospital, was requesting hospice care. He and his partner flew from San Francisco to Virginia, where they were joined by Daryl’s brother who also made the trip. All were at her bedside when she passed away.
“Her life was about being of service to other people. It was her passion. She was a Headstart teacher and worked until she was seventy-eight. At the end of her life, she did nutrition education. It was all about lifting up and supporting others, whether it was children or older adults. I’m continually inspired by her, and, as I evolve, I continue to look for ways to make a difference in other people’s lives.”
Daryl mentioned that his mother was a big advocate for staying healthy and would run five to six miles a day, only stopping in her early 70’s. He cites her as a source of strength in his life.
As the executor of her estate, he took time to settle matters but stayed in touch with BeWell about returning in August.
“The silver lining is that I didn’t have to commute, so I could ramp up getting back to work, since getting in a car and driving back and forth would be difficult. Working remotely helped with work-life balance and helped me return to work earlier.”
During his challenging year, Daryl focused on practicing gratitude and being thankful for the blessings in his life: a wonderful partner, being able to pay the bills, being lucky enough to not have loved ones suffering from COVID. He advises those who are going through challenging times to practice self-compassion and for all of us to practice compassion towards others in this unusual, hyperintense environment. “This will pass” is his mantra, and he looks for opportunities to help others, such as reaching out to those who’ve experienced loss or are isolated.
“There were days when my confidence and faith were tested. When I couldn’t do the things I used to be able to do, I would think, ‘Is this my new reality?’ But I also knew my body was healing and getting better little by little. It took a lot of patience, and I needed to be more sensitive and accepting.”
A few weeks ago, Daryl celebrated the one-year anniversary of his surgery with a walk around San Francisco, which a year ago would’ve been physically impossible to accomplish.
“I’m incredibly grateful to be here today and that my life was spared. However, I’m ready to turn the page on a very challenging year. It feels like a fresh start with new possibilities.”
Daryl looks forward to maintaining optimal health and wellness, supporting BeWell participants, more fun and recreation, “in-person” hugs, and continuing to be grateful for each new day.
Daryl post-surgery in the hospital
Daryl a year after his surgery during a celebratory walk around San Francisco
By Katie Shumake