Re-connected classmates work to turn tragedy into hope
by Michelle Watson
The Waldron family knows first hand how one tragic event can upend your life and put you on a whole different journey. But through their faith, their love for one another and special friends that have stepped in to help, they have learned there is hope at the end of long, dark tunnels.
“Life had other plans for all of us,” said Rita Waldron, of Ventura. “It felt like we were in a bad medical emergency show or movie; only this was our reality.”
Anthony Waldron, the son of Brian and Rita Waldron, had a normal childhood. He graduated from Ventura High School in 2005, where he was active in football, band, FFA and 4-H. He loved agriculture and the outdoors. Following graduation, he continued his schooling at Northwest Iowa Area Community College, in Sheldon, where he completed a two-year power line trades program. Following college, he was hired by Alliant Energy in Marshalltown, where he worked in both power and gas line work. In 2010, he got married and adopted a son, Jacob, who is now 19. He later divorced. In September 2017, he got engaged and was planning a wedding in June 2018.
Life began to change for Anthony in the fall of 2017. At the age of 30, he started experiencing flu like symptoms. In December of that year, he learned that his left bicuspid aortic heart valve was leaking and only functioning at 50 percent and that he had iron deficiency anemia. While at work on March 27, 2018, he began to experience numbness in his face and tongue and was not talking correctly. He was rushed to a hospital in Ames where they learned he had a small brain aneurysm and stroke. They also determined he had endocarditis, a life-threatening inflammation of the inner lining of the heart chambers and valves. Tests also showed infection was pocketing around his heart valves.
“At this point in Anthony’s health journey, he was aware of what was going on, he was able to talk and had input into his care and medical decisions,” said Rita. “Due to the infection, doctors were concerned about doing the risky heart surgery. We all decided it would be best to transfer Anthony to Mayo Clinic in Rochester.”
April 11, 2018 was the day the doctors deemed Anthony ready to undergo surgery.
“Little did we know this would be the last time we would hear his silly jokes and routine teasing that he administered to others on a daily basis,” said Rita.
The heart surgery to replace the valve went well. The family was allowed into his room and although intubated, he could respond with nods and hand motions. But things took a drastic turn when Anthony’s blood pressure dropped and he became non-responsive. The family was moved aside as the medical team jumped into action.
“After what seemed like an eternity, they came and told us that Anthony had a major brain bleed and fluid pressure was building on his brain,” said Rita. “They took him for another surgery to relieve the large amount of pressure on Anthony’s brain. They also gave us the option of letting Anthony pass away. But because doctors told us there was still brain activity, we asked them to fight hard for his life.”
Anthony had several surgeries to correct brain bleeds and he also had a massive stroke that impacted the left side of his body. The surgeries were a success and the brain bleed was stopped.
Following many days in the hospital and two more surgeries for fluid on the heart and another to replace the bone flap they had removed from his head, he was moved on June 1 to “On With Life,” a brain injury rehabilitation facility in Ankeny. He remained there for six months where he received daily speech, physical and rehab therapy sessions. One Dec. 7, 2018 he was discharged and moved home. Since that time, he has been working hard to recover and heal.
Anthony’s left leg, arm and hand remain non-functioning today. He is unable to walk and uses a wheelchair. He requires 24/7 care from family. His short-term memory, cognition, speech, eyesight, and writing ability was greatly impacted by the stoke and brain bleed.
Anthony can recall events and history prior to his surgery on April 11. A communication tablet helps him communicate with family and friends, as do big smiles, pointing to objects and making sounds.”
“One day he said, ‘my shoe,’ and pointed to the shoes we were putting on his feet. It is precious moments like these that make us jump up and down and want to shout out the window to the whole world what just happened,” said Rita.
Not only is his family stepping up to the plate for his care, but friends are also rallying to provide Anthony with the care he needs. Shea Coleman, Certified Physical Therapist (CPT), Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT), at Lake Fit, in Clear Lake, and Anthony have been friends dating back to elementary school in Ventura. Shea heard what happened to Anthony and offered to help any way he could in his field of massage and physical therapy. Shea and Anthony have been working together since October 2019.
“Shea has been such a blessing to us all,” said Rita. “Shea will routinely greet Anthony with a big smile and hello and Anthony’s huge smile tells us that he enjoys his time training with Shea.”
Before Anthony started working with Shea he was incapable of even sitting. He can now sit and reach across his body and move both his left leg, toes, arm and hand. He is also building his core muscles.
“We are working on standing and balance and getting Anthony to a point that he is strong enough to help his parents in his care,” said Shea. “We want to get his right side as strong as possible.”
“Shea has taught Anthony to push off the arm rest of the chair to get himself into an aided standing position. This has immensely helped us on the home front in our care for Anthony,” said Rita. “Now, we can stand and pivot him versus always using the transfer lift unit. Anthony absolutely loves working out with Shea. He pushes him to work hard and they have an amazing friendship and bond.”
“I don’t see him as being any different. I will push him like I do anyone,” said Shea. “I’ll talk about our childhood and our antics and I’ll always get a smirk.”
Besides his time at Lake Fit, Anthony fills his days with stretching and exercise, speech and cognition work, going outdoors and helping with small tasks around the house.
“Many hopes and dreams were shattered on April 11, 2018, however, what remained unchanged is our unending love for one another and finding continued hope through our trust in God,” said Rita. “God knew what He was doing when He reconnected Anthony and Shea, and tragedy started to turn into hope.”