Jeff Walls Diagnosed with Rare Pulmonary Disease

After months of tests, examinations, X-rays, IVs, bloodletting, speculations and treatments – and the entire month of April spent in hospital ICUs – Jeff Walls finally has a definitive answer as to what’s been afflicting him of late. And it’s mortally serious – forcing him into a decision between two paths going forward, neither one of which is a sunny breeze.

Walls – the longtime guitarist for The Woggles – is suffering from an extremely rare form of pulmonary hypertension called Pulmonary Veno-Occlusive Disease – so rare, Wall wrote in a post today on his Facebook page, “that it only affects one to two people out of ten million.

“It is caused by progressive blockages of the small capillaries in the lungs,” he explained. “This causes the heart to have to work harder, until eventual heart failure. There is no known medication or treatment. The only cure for me is a double lung transplant. Sometimes an additional heart transplant is also required to truly fix the problem. For patients without the option of transplant, death from heart failure follows the diagnoses by about two years.”

Walls – who came to initial prominence in the Georgia music scene as guitarist for Guadalcanal Diary in the 1980s, and later with Hillbilly Frankenstein and other groups – first began noticing problems with his heart and lungs late last year. As they worsened in the early months of this year, draining his strength, he sought the professional diagnoses of various cardiologists and pulmonologists, who expressed puzzlement as to the cause. Things took a serious turn for the scary the evening of March 22. After soundchecking with The Woggles at the Star Bar, where the band was scheduled to headline a show that night, Walls blacked out, and as he put it, “it only got worse from there.” Several days later, doctors identified fluid buildup in his lungs, causing his heart to have to work harder to pump enough oxygenated blood throughout his body – but they couldn’t pinpoint what was causing the fluid buildup. By the end of March he was hospitalized at Piedmont-Athens Regional for aggressive treatment of pulmonary hypertension; within days doctors had moved Walls into intensive care. After stumping the staff at Piedmont-Athens, on April 12 Walls was transferred to the ICU at Emory Hospital in Atlanta, where doctors determined the medications he’d been given were in fact making his condition worse. After reversing the treatment for a couple of weeks, Emory’s doctors came to the difficult conclusion that Walls was, in fact, one of those one or two people out of ten million with PVOD.

“Because of my extremely compromised state, they do not want to do the transplant at Emory,” continued Walls on Facebook, where he has been posting regular updates on his condition and treatment since the Star Bar incident. “An out-of-state hospital would obviously entail a lot of logistical planning. There are even more factors to consider if I go the transplant route, such as survival rate, rejection rate, the possibility of contracting another disease (such as cancer or infection) due to the body’s immune system being artificially lowered in order to accept the foreign organs. Not to mention post-op quality of life… A lot to consider.

“But that is the grim news. My choice has been narrowed down to taking a risky gamble on life vs. a very probable death from heart failure in two years. It’s not something I ever expected to have to face. But it is what it is. May the Big Man upstairs grant me the strength to face this with dignity, grace and humor. I sincerely thank everyone for the continued love, support and prayers.”

In that spirit, Walls’ friend and bandmate in Guadalcanal Diary and Blasting Cap, Murray Attaway, has launched a GoFundMe fundraising campaign to help cover the staggering costs of Jeff’s medical treatment, to which you are encouraged to donate, and share liberally.

“Jeff is an extraordinary human being; kind, caring and generous to everyone and dearly loved by fans, friends and family alike,” Attaway writes on the GoFundMe web page. “He also happens to be one of the most extraordinary and gifted musicians of our time.”

A truer statement could not be made. We are all rooting for you, Jeff.