Gary Health Commissioner’s Personal Battle With COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis has permeated every aspect of Dr. Roland Walker’s life. 

As health commissioner of Gary, Indiana, he’s been overseeing the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, helping to implement safety orders and sanitary precautions. 

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But like many health care workers across the country, the pandemic has become personal for Walker, too. In late March, he tested positive for the virus. 

He showed no symptoms and was able to return to work after a week of self-isolation. But for Walker’s elderly parents, who also tested positive, it was a much different story. 

Walker says while they initially had no respiratory symptoms, the virus left both his mother and father in states of neurological distress.  

“Both of my parents had altered mental status. Both my parents had difficulty walking. They couldn’t do their own activities of daily living, they couldn’t use the bathroom by themselves, couldn’t feed themselves,” he said. 

Walker’s father has since recovered, but his mother remains in intensive care, even though she’s now tested negative for the virus. 

“She’s on a ventilator still. And one of the symptoms that we’ve learned about for coronavirus is that it causes hypercoagulability, and so she suffered a stroke, and so she’s still dealing with the effects of a stroke,” Walker said. “Our real goal now is to get her off the ventilator. And then I’m just praying that I can get her into Shirley Ryan Ability Center. That is my goal in life right now.” 

Walker also runs a pediatric practice in Gary. He says he’s continuing to use personal protective equipment while seeing patients, even though he’s recovered from COVID-19. 

“That’s not required at this point,” Walker said. [But] I think it’s a good idea to set the example that gives them comfort to patients, I always wear a mask and I wear gloves when I see patients.” 

As of Thursday Gary has reported 414 cases of COVID-19, with 15 deaths. Lake County, Indiana, which contains Gary and much of Northwest Indiana, has seen close to 1,846 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 83 deaths.

Covid Across Chicago

How is the novel coronavirus impacting local businesses, residents and social service agencies across the city and region? And how are local leaders handling the crisis? We hit the streets to answer those questions and more in our ongoing reporting series, COVID-19 Across Chicago. See where we’ve been and what we’ve discovered in this overview. Listed is the official Chicago community area with the neighborhood in parenthesis where appropriate.

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