Walker man’s battle with West Nile virus continues

WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) — Mosquitoes are testing positive for the West Nile virus earlier than usual this year.

Health officials announced Wednesday they’ve identified mosquitoes carrying the virus in two additional zip codes in Kent County for a total of four zip codes. With the virus appearing at least a month early, authorities are worried this will be a bad year for West Nile and are warning people to take the threat seriously.

Alan Walczak of Walker understands the threat intimately. When he contracted West Nile, it paralyzed him — though he has come a long way since then.

“I’m the same person I was,” Walczak told News 8 Thursday. “I’ve learned to depend on this wheelchair for everything.”

He contracted the virus around Labor Day 2017, though he notes “it’s just impossible to pinpoint the exact time it happened.” What he can identify is the way a single mosquito bite changed the trajectory of his life.

“There were enormous frustrations because the only thing I could really move was my right hand,” Walczak said.

Since then, he has worked hard to be able to swim, pedal, walk with assistance and resume a favorite pastime, playing the guitar. He credits his progress to his doctors, therapists and his family.

“They saved my life,” Walczak said.

His wife Joy Walczak, a former employee of WOOD TV8, has been by his side from the three months he was on a respirator to the time he spent recovering at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids and then back at home.

“His attitude has set the stage for his recovery,” she said. “We do celebrate all those little victories.”

While she focused on her husband’s tremendous progress, she said she would be remiss if she didn’t acknowledge the seriousness of West Nile.

“Even though most people won’t experience this type of outcome with West Nile, some people will, and you don’t know if it’s going to be you,” Joy Walczak said.

As his wife called on the community to use mosquito repellent, Alan Walczak said he takes his recovery day by day, hoping his circumstances will change.

“For me, I always maintain this hope that things are going to get better,” Walczak said.

There have been no human cases of the West Nile virus reported in Kent County so far this year.

Tips to protect yourself from mosquito bites and the viruses they carry:

  • Apply mosquito repellent containing at least 35% DEET.
  • Wear light-colored clothes.
  • Stay indoors after dusk.
  • Remove or refresh standing water from your property, where possible.
  • Keep lawns and shrubs trimmed.
  • Check home window screens for holes.