By Tim Fleischer
Walt Tollefson needs our help.
The long-time Saladoan is seeking a specialized treatment not currently available in the United States to halt the progression of the multiple sclerosis that he was diagnosed with several years ago. The treatment is a bone marrow transplant that utilizes the patient’s own hematopoietic stem cells rather than the marrow of a matching donor.
In layman’s terms, the hematopoietic stems cells are harvested from the person and are used to restore the normal hematopoiesis of the patient after that patient has been exposed to high dose chemotherapy delivered to aim immunosuppression.
About a month ago, Walt came to me to talk about the treatment and what it would mean to him. “It will stop this disease,” he said.
For the last seven years, I have watched Walt as the multiple sclerosis has rapidly progressed. In the early 2010s, Walt was hiking four to six miles a day from his house that sits on a wet weather creek next to Bill Hall. He and his wife of 38 years keep their horses Traveler (who is a miracle story in himself, but save it for another day) and Ruby, a giant, black Percheron and dogs and tend a garden.
Walt and I go way back, which is why I am telling his story to my readers in hopes that they will help him to reach a goal of $65,000 to pay for the treatment, travel, lodging and a caregiver.
Marilyn and I have known Walt and Karen Tollefson for the better part of 30 years here in Salado, Texas. About 20 years ago, he saved our business, the Salado Village Voice newspaper! At the time, he had just started a computer repair business when I came to him in desperation with a dead file server containing all the newspaper archives, customer files, pages, photos, stories and image files. We were sunk. He was able to recover the data for us and build a new file server and backup system, making it possible for us to continue in business.
Up until the mid-2010s, Walt worked on computers for small businesses and residents in the Salado area. He was a one man mobile shop who probably rescued hundreds of others who found themselves in the dire situation that Marilyn and I were in when a computer turns into a brick. He built systems for my house and my business and was someone I could call regardless of the time. Most of his customers knew him that way. They were his friends and he was a rescuer. Forget Saul, you better call Walt.
But then in 2014, an opportunity came up that would allow him to retrain as a pilot, and return to his first love of flight. While he was training for a regional airline, he had a seizure and lost consciousness in midair. Thankfully he was not flying the plane at the time. However, this led to several months of doctors trying to determine what was causing the seizure, loss of feelings in limbs and so on.
He was finally correctly diagnosed as having Multiple Sclerosis. Since then, the disease has progressed to the point that he now uses a wheelchair full-time. His long-term prognosis is bleak. He has lost the use of his legs as well as his left hand and arm, yet he stills finds a way and finds joy in tending a sizeable garden, his giant horse Ruby and his dog, while hugging his wife of 38 years Karen.
About a month ago, Walt found what he believes is an answer to his prayers, through a bone marrow transplant. This treatment is offered through Clinica Ruiz in Mexico. The treatment requires a 28-day stay in Puebla, Mexico with a full-time caregiver on hand. His wife Karen will not be able to stay the entire time, so Walt will need to hire a caregiver while he is there recovering from the treatment. You can find out more about the treatment, here. According to the Clinica Ruiz website, Doctor Ruiz Argüelles and Doctor Gómez-Almaguer have performed more than 3,000 HSCT procedures during more than 20 years for hematological and autoimmune diseases, out of which over 900 have been for MS. Positive results have been achieved in over 78% of patients transplanted at Clinica Ruiz, which includes both relapsing and progressive patients. Walt found out two weeks ago that he qualifies medically for the treatment.
Now he has until November to raise $55,000 for the treatment. The additional $10,000 will cover his and Karen’s travel, as well as the cost for the full-time caregiver and other unforeseeable costs (lodging and caring for his animals while Karen visits, lodging for Karen, etc.). Walt and Karen were full-time caregivers to Karen’s parents in their final years. Karen has not been able to return to work as she is full-time caregiver for Walt since he began to lose his mobility as the MS progressed.
Walt hopes to stop the progress of the disease and to regain some of his mobility and quality of life. If you know Walt, you know how strong and how deep his faith in God remains. He continues to have that Dennis the Menace smile and infectious laugh. He has accepted his mortality but wants to hold on to his wife for longer than the doctors have given him (18 months to two years) without this treatment.
I have established a Go Fund Me for Walt as well as a medical benefit fund account in his name at the Salado Horizon Bank. You can also bring a check or cash to the newspaper office at 213 Mill Creek Dr., Suite #125, Salado, TX 76571 or mail payment to Salado Village Voice, PO Box 587, Salado, TX 76571. Make checks payable to Walt Tollefson Medical Fund.
If you have known Walt from his years of working on computers, being in the Masonic Lodge or the Rotary Club (where he delivered flags for more than a dozen years), or being a show-stealing walk-on character in the annual Salado Legends play, this is the time to show him your love.