Morinville – Anyone who knows First Choice Tree Nursery proprietor Deb Cherdarchuk knows how active the woman is. But these days she no longer whips around the nursery with a speed that would win an athlete’s admiration. Today her movements are slow, her stamina greatly reduced, and the memory of what put her in her current state is largely gone. Cherdarchuk was diagnosed with Hantavirus this past spring and has only recently come home from hospital, lucky to have survived and thankful to have done so.
Hantavirus can infect humans through the saliva, urine or fecal matter of rodents. It is believed Cherdarchuk became infected in this way, but just when or how is not known. Field mice on their property have been far fewer this season than one would normally see in the country. But it only takes one.
Cherdarchuk’s husband Ron said Deb was taken to hospital over the May long weekend after not feeling particularly well. Originally thought by doctors to be the flu, she was directed to return to hospital if she did not feel better in a couple days. But the next day Cherdarchuk was feeling much worse and had completely lost her balance. Another trip to hospital ended up with more tests, more blood work, and Cherdarchuk listed in critical condition later that day.
“At that point they thought it was the Hantavirus, but were not sure,” Ron said. “I get there to the ICU and there are three nurses working on Deb trying to stabilize her and get her prepped to be moved by ambulance to the University [Hospital].”
By afternoon the next day Deb was being hooked up to a machine at the Mazankowski Heart Institute that removes the blood, oxygenates it, and returns it to the body.
“The doctors were not giving her a very favourable report,” Ron said. “Some of the doctors didn’t think she’d make it. The one doctor that I remember well, Doctor Singh, said she’s got a 50/50 chance. She was on that machine for six days.”
When they removed Deb from the machine, she was still in a coma. She remained comatose for a total of 15 days. “She finally started to wake up, and when she did wake up she couldn’t really talk,” Ron said, adding she slowly improved enough to be transferred to a lower level of ICU. “She was there for four or five days, then they moved her over to the medicine ward. That’s where they get all the other problems sorted out so she could get better.”
But just as things were looking up, Deb had another stroke, a situation that put her back to ICU and back into unconsciousness for another four days. “Her blood pressure had spiked to 215, and they don’t know why it spiked,” Ron said.
When Deb had improved substantially she was transferred to the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital where she underwent therapy for three to four weeks.
Slow road to recovery
Deb was eventually allowed to go home, but she was told it would be at least six months before she would be able to do any work. A reassessment of her condition will be made by doctors in December to see if she is well enough to go back to work.
During the illness Deb has lost 17 pounds of muscle from being in bed for so long. It is muscle that will take a long time to rebuild in her present condition.
“I have to be very careful what I lift,” Deb said. “For example – our cat weighs 20 pounds. I can’t lift him anymore. I have to be very careful bending. If I bend down to pick something up and I go to come up, it takes everything that I have for my legs to bring me back up. If I sit too long, my legs get really sore. If I walk too long, they get really sore. The muscles are not able to work like they did before.”
It is a frustrating situation for a woman who is accustomed to being on the go on a regular basis to meet the demands of her active tree nursery.
“It’s hard,” she said of not being able to go at the pace she is accustomed to. “But at the same time I get tired. That’s one of the things they said would happen. I kind of have a position now. I know how far I can go. It may change. But tomorrow I may say, ‘I can’t do anything.’ It is hard knowing that there is work to do and knowing that I can’t do it.”
Although memories on the specifics of her illness and her road to recovery are minimal, the illness has not affected any long-term memories. However, finding the right word these days can sometimes pose a problem. In recounting her story, the word hotel will be occasionally substituted for the word hospital. Similar substituted words occur as she sometimes struggles for the words that once flowed easily.
But some of the memory is coming back. Each day moves her one more step towards being herself again. “What I’ve started to notice is she is starting to remember a little bit further back,” Ron said. “She remembers when she was in ICU and they were getting her up to walk. Talking to the nurses and therapists, it could take up to a year because the brain has to rewire itself.”
Thankful for support
Running First Choice Tree Nursery over the summer has been a challenge for the family. Son Cory has a growing business of his own in Edmonton, but has pitched in when he can. The Cherdarchuk family are grateful of the support of family, friends, and even customers who have pitched in to keep the business running along with the special events the family business is known for.
“There were a lot of customers that came to help while I was really sick,” Deb said. “Even now some of them will come and help.”
The business will hire some part time people to help as Deb recovers further towards being the woman she was before being hit with the Hantavirus.
As the family heads into the Christmas season, Deb will be an active presence in the Santa Shop the business sets up each year. The annual A Very Cherdarchuk Christmas event will be on this year in all its festive glory.
In fact, the business will be having a Let Christmas Begin Gala Oct. 4 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. One of the traditions the family does each year is commissioning a Christmas ornament, the sales of which support the Mazankowski Heart Institute. That ornament will be available beginning Thursday.
Above: Ron Cherdarchuk holds his wife Deb inside their Christmas store at First Choice Tree Nursery. Deb was infected with the Hantavirus this spring and has recently become well enough to return home. – Stephen Dafoe Photo