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A walk to remember brave ‘Captain Wullie’

23 August 2023

Susan McCall took part in the Glasgow Bridges Walk this month in memory of her husband, Wullie. He first fell ill during a holiday in Turkey. The couple were enjoying a sunshine getaway in the town of Dalyan, “Wullie’s happy place”, when he became terribly unwell.

Susan and Wullie on their wedding day
Susan McCall and 'Captain Wullie'

Kidneys failed after heart attack

“He had no energy and just wasn’t himself,” recalls Susan, 64. “Then one morning I noticed something was wrong with his breathing – it was very shallow. We got a taxi to the local hospital, where X-rays confirmed he had pneumonia.” 

The following day there was shocking news.  

“Wullie had, unbeknownst to me, had a heart attack on the way to the hospital. That, combined with the pneumonia, had caused his kidneys to fail,” says Susan. “They also discovered five blood clots on his lungs, so it was a perfect storm.” 

Wullie, a former detective, had lines installed for dialysis and the following day his travel insurers flew him home to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow for emergency treatment.  

The beginning of his ordeal

“A week after we got back from Turkey he contracted sepsis,” says Susan, whose first husband, Frank, tragically passed away from a heart attack at the age of 41. “He had to take heavy intravenous antibiotics for a month, so his kidneys were absolutely finished after that. A transplant wasn’t an option.” 

From mid-August onwards, Wullie would travel to hospital three times a week to receive haemodialysis via a fistula in his arm.  

But sadly, after a brief period of stability, he received some devastating news. 

In 2020 his middle son, Liam, was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. The news hit Wullie hard.  

“Liam was reeling at the world and didn’t want anyone, including Wullie, to see him ill,” explains Susan. “Wullie went round the bend, because he just wanted to give him a cuddle.” 

Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, Susan was hospitalised with Covid-19. 

“In January 2021 I caught Covid and ended up in a coma for a week,” she says. “At one point my family was told to expect the worst.” 

Health took a drastic turn

Fortunately Susan made a good recovery, but four months later, while her son Phillip – a medic based in Orkney – was visiting, Wullie’s health took a drastic turn for the worse.  

“He’d been discharged from hospital after having a stent put in and he, Phil and I had a really good night together,” says Susan. “But the following morning Wullie said he didn’t feel right. My son had a look at him and I could see the skin on his back was becoming mottled, as if his circulation wasn’t right.  

“Phillip mouthed for me to call 999, so I did. Suddenly, Wullie’s breathing got really bad and his tongue rolled to the back of his mouth. Phil started CPR, but Wullie’s face turned black and his whole body suddenly flipped, as if a bolt of electricity had just run through it. 

“Then his arm did the exact same thing my first husband Frank’s did when he died – it just flopped. 

“The paramedics arrived and rushed him to hospital, but I just knew he’d gone.” 

In a cruel twist, Liam passed away the day before his father’s funeral.  

Captain Wullie in his kilt
Captain Wullie

Proud to be supporting research

Despite being dealt so many blows, Susan remains remarkably positive. Talking to us ahead of the event, she was proud to be supporting Kidney Research UK by taking part in the Glasgow Bridges Walk.  

“I suffer from fibromyalgia, which can be painful, but if I take it slowly I should be fine,” she says. “Wullie would have wanted to do it with me – but he’d definitely have said that the purple Kidney Research UK t-shirt clashed with his bright red hair!” 

Happily, Susan has been able to return to Turkey, where the locals in Dalyan – where she and Wullie married in 2015 – fondly refer to her late husband as ‘The Captain’.  

“I’ve got lots of friends there and many lovely memories of my time with Wullie,” she says. “Some bars even have pictures of him on their wall, because he was such good friends with the people who worked there.” 

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