Family of Santa Rosa flu victim, 23, devastated

The family of a 23-year-old Santa Rosa man who died last week after he contracted the H1N1 flu virus expressed concern Saturday that his illness was not recognized in time to possibly save his life.

Matthew "Matty" Walker was admitted to Kaiser Permanente's hospital in Santa Rosa on Dec. 27 after he called 911 to report he was having trouble breathing. He had been sent home from the hospital the day before after being seen in the emergency room and diagnosed with pneumonia.

Walker's family said Kaiser doctors didn't discover that the El Molino High School graduate had H1N1 until after he was put into a medically induced coma prior to his death Wednesday. By then, they said, it was too late.

"There is some anger," said Ruth Bell, Matthew Walker's sister, on Saturday. "They didn't know it was H1N1 until he was in a coma. It's a devastating loss."

Kaiser spokesman Carl Campbell on Saturday said that he could not comment on the case, citing patient confidentiality.

Walker is one of four people who have died in the most recent outbreak of the flu on the North Coast. The H1N1 strain has health officials concerned because it appears to be affecting all ages and not just people who are vulnerable or frail.

Still, Walker's case stands out because of his age and his apparent vitality, and the fact he first sought medical treatment 13 days before his death.

The youngest of five, Walker grew up in Occidental and enjoyed windsurfing and skateboarding. He also was a talented musician who liked to play the harmonica and saxophone, his sister said.

"He was a real positive person," she said. "A don't-worry-be-happy kind of kid. Everyone loved him."

Connie Petersen, human resources director at G-G Market in Santa Rosa, where Walker worked, said he only missed a few days of work due to illness in the two years he had been employed at the West College Avenue store. He started off as a bagger and had worked in the produce department for the past six months.

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