Pemberton man recovering after near-death due to Hantavirus


Warburton thinks he contracted the virus while cleaning his attic before leaving for his family vacation.

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Lorne Warburton thought the illness he was battling after a vacation overseas was the flu. The Pemberton resident never expected the virus he was fighting to be much more deadly.

The 55-year-old father is sharing his experience of contracting the rare hantavirus in the hopes of helping keep others safe.

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“I came home from Mexico on Friday, happy to have enjoyed snorkelling with my daughter, but eight days later I was on my death bed.”

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Warbuton was suffering from hantavirus, which is linked to exposure to the urine and fecal matter of infected rodents.

What started with body aches, headaches and fatigue in mid-March turned into septic shock just days later, then the progressive failure of Warburton’s organs, including his heart and lungs.

“I had thought it was just a cold. Nothing I haven’t dealt with before and with a kid in the house, certainly nothing that was out of the ordinary,” Warburton said.

“But after mustering all the strength I had to get up from bed and go to the washroom Saturday morning, I saw that my hands and face were purple — I could barely move or breathe.”

Warburton’s wife, Anna, drove her husband to Pemberton Medical Clinic. Doctors knew immediately he required intensive medical care and was immediately flown to VGH.

“I was told my heart stopped for 11 minutes, they had to bring me back to life,” said Warburton.

Emergency doctors couldn’t identify the illness, but knew that with his rapidly deteriorating condition, Warbuton needed specialized care.

“They put me in an ambulance to Vancouver General Hospital. An ER doctor from the hospital came in the ambulance with me because she didn’t know if I was going to make it over the bridge,” the father said.

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In the ICU, Warbuton was put on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which allowed his heart and lungs to rest by pumping his blood outside his body for oxygenation.

“That machine saved my life,” he said, adding the machine is only put into service when patients with severe respiratory conditions can no longer tolerate the force of a ventilator.

With all the medical interventions, including being intubated for the use of a ventilator and a kidney dialysis machine, after five days Warburton’s condition stabilized.

“Thankfully, I was kept under close supervision, with more than 40 different health care workers tending to me during my stay,” Warburton said.

Eventually, Dr. David Sweet, a VGH infectious disease specialist, made the diagnosis of hantavirus.

After being treated for 15 days at VGH, Warbuton was able to recover at home in April.

“As a former parks worker in Whistler, I used to be able to do 150 pushups in 10 minutes, but now I can barely do one. The virus sucked the life out of me,” he said.

“While I still have a longer road ahead of me, I am forever indebted and grateful to the people who have helped me be here today. Even to my two daughters, who help me put on my jacket when I am not feeling strong enough to yet.”

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Warburton’s best guess as to where he contracted the virus was while he was cleaning his attic before he left on vacation.

The key to avoiding hantavirus is to prevent rodent infestations and properly clean and disinfect areas contaminated by droppings, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Wearing an N95 or equivalent mask can also help.

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