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Doctor's illness teaches him a lesson in caring

By Staff
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
Dr. Alan Walker expects to hit the ground running when he returns to his family medical practice at Hartselle Family Medicine on March 1. The reason? He has been away from his practice for 15 months while being treated for and recovering from a rare autoimmune disease. In the meantime, his partners, Dr. Andy Duke and Dr. Jay Pohl, have added his patients to their practices.
Dr. Walker fell ill in early December 2003 and spent three weeks in Huntsville Hospital undergoing treatment with steroids and antibiotics for an unknown disease. "They let me come home on Christmas Eve," he recalled, "even though I was still very ill. It was about a week later when I learned from my rheumatologist that I had an autoimmune disease with an incidence rate of one in 150,000."
He said the disease attacks blood vessels and is usually localized in the lungs and kidneys. The cause is not known, but there is a primary treatment.
"I had chemotherapy every day for a year," he said.
Dr. Walker said before he got sick he was probably in the best physical shape he had been in for years.
"I was coaching my daughter's soccer team and was packmaster of my son's Cub Scout pack. Both required a lot of physical activity and stamina."
"The chemo limited what I could do," Dr. Walker said. "A lot of the time I had to isolate myself because I didn't feel well and didn't have the strength to do what I wanted to do."
Because of the illness, Dr. Walker had to find ways to fill his time.
"I did a fair amount of reading," he said. "Plus, I had to take the board last summer so I spent a good bit of time studying for that."
Dr. Walker said he continued to attend worship services at Hartselle Church of Christ even thought his health was at risk.
"I had my fair share of colds and other infections," he stated.
"Now that I'm off of the chemotherapy my strength and endurance is building back up," Dr. Walker said. "I'm still slightly anemic but I expect to be back to normal soon."
When asked if his perspective as a family doctor has changed because of his illness, he said, "I'll be more understanding of what my patients are going though."
Dr. Walker said his Christian faith has been the mainstay in his long period of illness and recovery.
"I can't thank the people of Hartselle enough for all of their prayers, get-well cards, phone calls and good wishes," he pointed out.
"I enjoy my work and I look forward to getting back in practice," Dr. Walker stated.