By MC2 (SW) Kevin V. Cunningham
Walter Reed Command Communications
“Without your organization, I would not be alive today,” said Canadian naval officer Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Willis during an appreciation award ceremony at Walter Reed Bethesda, May 15.
Willis, the assistant naval attaché engineer at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, contracted Lyme disease June 2016 while serving in the U.S. capital region. The disease led to Lyme Cardisis creating a third-degree atrioventricular block, also known as complete heart block.
Quickly transferred to the Intensive Care Unit, Willis lost consciousness.
“I was started on a load of antibiotics, but before they had sufficient time to work their magic, I blacked out,” said Willis. “Waking up in the middle of receiving CPR, it finally dawned on me how serious this was.”
Willis was rushed to surgery to get a pacemaker in what he originally thought was going to be a routine doctor’s visit to fight the flu.
“I had felt weak and ill for a few weeks but had no idea how dangerous things had become,” he said.
“My full recovery took many months, all at Walter Reed,” said Willis. “Without the dedication of every single one of your team members, I would not have made it.”
Another Canadian service member, Army Maj. Josee Allard, spoke of her gratitude for more than 70 skin treatments she has undergone while being stationed at the embassy.
“I was skeptical because I couldn’t believe there was any treatment for my condition,” said Allard, the deputy commanding officer at the Canadian Embassy.
“Being diagnosed with an auto immune disease was the start of receiving highly-developed medical procedures from a military hospital so keen on treating me as one of their own,” said Allard.
She spoke of her gratitude saying she felt both privileged and humbled by her access to high-quality care despite being away from home.
Willis said he wouldn’t know where to start regarding who to specifically thank for his care.
“The intake nurse who quickly got me off my feet; those in the ICU holding me as my heart tried to self-destruct; the cardiology resident who was there to defibrillate and commence CPR and the staff who backed him up; the whole surgery team and Cardiac Rehab section; the list goes on,” Willis said.
Shortly after his final rehab appointment, Willis was back in the hospital, not as a patient, but as an expectant father.