Dunnett, Wanda

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                                  WANDA DUNNETT
                                 By Gail Savoy


MIRAMICHI – Most days it is a struggle just to get out of bed in the morning.

But for Wanda Dunnett, getting up and on the go each day is one of the most important things she can do for herself.

The 48-year-old Miramichi woman suffers from a chronic disease known as Scleroderma (CREST syndrome). While it has robbed Dunnett of so much, she is determined it is not going to take away her independence.

“I try to always do things for myself before I ask for help,” she said.

Dunnett was diagnosed with the rare disease, which literally hardens the skin, when she was 31 years old. But she had suffered from one of the early symptoms of the disease called Reynaud’s phenomenon since she was 18 or 19 years old. Her fingers and toes were extremely sensitive to the cold and she experienced a lot of infections as a result.

Over time the disease worsened to the point that it began affecting more parts of her body. The chronic disease, which has no cure, has resulted in multiple amputations. Dunnett has lost both her legs to mid-calf, her right hand to below the elbow, and digits on her left hand. She has suffered a heart attack and a serious blood clot in her leg. It also affected her esophagus. Scar tissue formed and blocked off the pipe which forces Dunnett to travel to Fredericton every three to six months for seven years to have it stretched. Fortunately, she has not had the procedure done for the past 18 months.

                        Doctor believes condition in remission

In fact, her last visit to her rheumatologist in Miramichi Dunnett was told it looked like her disease might be in remission since she has not been hospitalized or suffered any new symptoms in almost two years.

Despite all she has been through, Dunnett’s resolve to overcome no matter what has remained strong. “Every day is a challenge,” she admits in a soft voice. “But I love life and I’m determined to enjoy it.”

One such example for Dunnett was learning to use her left hand after her right was amputated. “I only have one hand to do things with and it’s sore most of the time. I don’t mind how long it takes,” she said noting getting ready to go out anywhere, i.e., bathing, putting on make-up, doing hair, can take up to three hours. Dunnett says she does not mind how long it takes as long as she can do it for herself. “I’ll spend hours folding clothes or trying to get a button fastened. I don’t give up real easily.”

Coping with the disease is tiring for Dunnett. Dealing with the pain and numerous infections on a daily basis can wear down your resolve, she admits. “You learn to live with so much.”

At this point she is trying to clear up infections located on five different parts of her body with her fingers being the worst. Dunnett has been battling for two years to try and get them healed. “The doctor thought at one point he would have to amputate but it has not come to that yet,” she said. “I take a long time to heal.”

                                Some help from programs

Dunnett does not receive a bit of help. Red Cross workers come in twice a week and help out with house work and personal care.

“I can’t get down and do things. But I try to do tasks like unloading the dishwasher, wiping up around, making my bed, etc.,” she said as she sat in her electric wheelchair.

While eligible to have Meals-on-Wheels delivered five days a week Dunnett gets them only twice a week. “You know if they are not coming you have to do it yourself.”

Extra-mural nurses also visit daily to change the dressings on her infected areas.

Dunnett said she is now dreading the cold weather. “My skin was really dry and infected last winter. Nothing I tried seemed to clear it up.”

Despite everything she has been through and has to deal with on a daily basis, Dunnett maintains a very positive attitude. “I can be happy just getting up in the morning and puttering around as long as I feel good.”

                         Caring for cats keeping her going

Dunnett credits her two cats Brandy and Hollie (named for her dad) with giving her the strength each day to get on the go. “I have to look after them. They need to be let out, fed, and cared for. I guess they are like my children. I talk to them all the time,” said Dunnett, noting the two cats seem to know when she is having a bad day.

Faithful family members and good friends are a big help to Dunnett. In fact, a pair of these friends, Mike and Maureen Lifsches, are organizing a benefit at The Tide on Nov. 4. Many more friends will help during the day. The funds raised will help Dunnett with medical, travel, and day to day living expenses.

“I get a little shy and nervous when they do these things but the people on the Miramichi are so generous. They are just such wonderful people.”

Another person who helped Dunnett cope for a long time was her mother. “She is sick now. I feel bad because she took care of me for so long and now I can’t take of her.” But Dunnett does what she can by coordinating her mother’s caretakers’ schedules.

Having strong faith in God has seen Dunnett through some very tough times. “I know the big guy up above has been right there for me. I’ve had a couple of close calls and He kept me alive for a reason.”


Source: Miramichi Leader – October 30, 2001

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