The Free Press will be hosting a benefit dinner for Glenn and Tania Wallman on Dec. 12 at the Fernie Legion Hall.
Glenn has been a resident of Fernie for 35 years, and Tania first came to the Elk Valley in 1975, returning permanently in 1992. The two married in August of 2006 after knowing each other for 10 years.
They spent five beautiful years together before fate intervened, and Tania’s son Mike lost his life in a car accident in February 2010. His wife Brianna was in an induced coma for three weeks, at which time Tania and Glenn, together with Brianna’s parents took on the caregiver role for their three-year-old granddaughter.
In November of 2010 Tania went to her doctor who sent her for some routine tests. It was Nov. 25 Tania recalls. She had her blood work done in the morning and went to work. By noon Tania was taken off of work and was enroute to Calgary where she endured more tests. She had been told in Fernie that it was quite likely that she had leukemia, a diagnosis which, after more testing was confirmed in Calgary.
From December 2010 to March 2011 Tania underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment for her cancer at Foothills Hospital. Tania was diagnosed with Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. This was complicated by the discovery that she had what is known as the Philadelphia Chromosome. This is a specific abnormality of chromosome 22; the chromosome splits and in turn creates an extra chromosome. The doctors could not give Tania and Glenn a cause – they only said that it was possibly stress related.
The first month of treatment put the cancer into remission but due to the Philadelphia Chromosome, thus Tania required a stem cell implant. Testing within her immediate family did not yield a match. Tania’s name was put on the Canadian Blood Services’ OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network registry.
In March a matching donor was found, however, as it takes time for a donor to become prepped for the transplant, it was not until the week of April 14 that Tania was given a mass dose of chemotherapy and radiation in order to wipe out her DNA and then received the bone marrow transplant intravenously.
Throughout the ordeal it became apparent that if Tania had waited one more week for her initial doctor’s appointment, the outcome could have been very different. Even at the time of the transplant, there was still no guarantee that she would live.
Glenn had just started his own business in the summer of 2010 and was teaching at the College of the Rockies prior to Tania’s diagnosis. Ghostrider Safety Services was short-lived as he had to shut the business down in 2011 and secure an apartment in Calgary as Tania was not allowed to be more than 30 minutes from the hospital from April through October.
Back in Fernie the outpouring of community support was humbling. Raven Garlock along with Cathy Follett spearheaded fundraising events, which included a head shave hosted by Ann’s Independent Grocer (then Extra Foods) to help Glenn and Tania pay for their apartment rental in Calgary. In addition to the head shave there was also a barbecue, a bake sale, a silent auction; and the Hosmer Fire Department sold shirts and toques.
The year’s events had eaten away Tania and Glenn’s savings. With no income, they had eventually gone through Glenn’s pension so the fundraiser could not have come at a better time.
By the spring of 2012 Tania had started a gradual return to work program at the pharmacy at Extra Foods. It took her a long time to rebuild her strength and stamina, in the beginning working only two four-hour shifts per week.
After being her primary caregiver for a year and a half, Glenn also returned to work. Tania returned to work full time at the end of 2012. Things were starting to return to normal, the couple was getting re-established and Glenn was rebuilding his client base.
After two and a half years of relative normalcy, in March of 2015 Glenn slipped and hit his head while getting out of a hot tub. He lost consciousness and woke up and couldn’t move, he had split his head open. Glenn was taken to emergency with a gouge beside his eye and he appeared to be dopey and groggy. He was given stitches and sent to Cranbrook Regional Hospital. He had a CT Scan and was sent back to Fernie.
While being monitored in Fernie for his head injury, a bruise Glenn acquired on his foot from the fall turned into a hematoma resembling a blood blister. This combined with the grogginess was an indication of an existing Staphylococcus infection of unknown origin. He was put in ICU to try to get the infection under control and was on antibiotics through IV for eight weeks.
A week after the discontinuation of the antibiotics, his toes had started to turn black. In early June, despite maggot therapy, the infection was still not cleared up and Glenn was put back on antiobiotics.
After a call from the surgeon on June 9, treatment progressed rapidly. Readmission to hospital on June 10 and a consultation on June 11 resulted in the amputation of Glenn’s lower leg on June 12 which was the only viable course of action.
Glenn’s life has been forever altered. He may never again be a frontline firefighter, something he has dedicated over half of his life to. He will, however still be able to do incident command, but in order to accomplish this Glenn requires a prosthetic foot that will fit into a fire boot, which will cost in the range of $10,000.
The death of a child, cancer diagnosis, and life altering surgery – any one of these things would be enough to paralyze any family, and yet despite it all, Tania and Glenn maintain a positive outlook, crediting the positive outcomes to the excellent healthcare they were afforded by the medical professionals in Fernie, Calgary and Cranbrook.
Tickets for the Benefit Dinner are $20 per person, and are available at The Free Press office. Come and join us in helping the Wallmans, by enjoying a Spaghetti dinner, silent auction, and music by the Relief Committee.