Walker, now 70, grew up in Palo Alto where her father was an anesthesiologist at Stanford Hospital and her mother a local painter and early member of Gallery House. She said she was shocked to lose them. Even at age 94, Walker considered them both "tough people" who would survive the virus.
"Dad walked away with a burst appendix at 80; mom survived a double embolism at 89," she explained. "We didn't really give up hope. We didn't think that would happen. They had survived so many other things."
Walker said losing her parents to COVID-19 was her worst fear after moving them to an assisted living center in Santa Cruz last summer.
"They're sitting ducks," Walker remembers thinking when she began to hear on the news about how seniors in care facilities were disproportionately dying from the virus. There were coronavirus deaths recorded in every single nursing home in Santa Cruz, she later learned.
A month before her parents caught the virus in mid-December, Walker and her brother and sister unanimously agreed to have a personal caretaker continue assisting their parents with daily activities at the facility. Due to COVID-19 health restrictions, the three of them were unable to visit the facility.
When her mom was diagnosed with coronavirus, doctors placed her in the COVID-19 ward at Domincan Hospital and treated her with a cocktail of medications: blood thinners, steroids and monoclonal antibody therapy. For a brief moment, she seemed "out of the woods," Walker said.
When her father tested positive and went to the hospital, he was sent home.
"The doctors just said, 'It's more humane to send him home and let him be in a comfortable environment,'" Walker said.
The day after Christmas, Walker's father died in his sleep. Her mom, who initially seemed to recover after her treatment, never regained her energy.
"That is the hardest thing," Walker said, "Is not to be there at the end. Not to be able to be there and comfort them when they were so sick."
The daughter and mother of two doesn't carry any resentment against the nursing home or caretaker who most likely gave her parents the virus. But what has gnawed at Walker during the last few months, and continues to frustrate her today, are the things beyond her control — like why the nursing home didn't receive the vaccines earlier, when the shots could have saved her parents' lives.
Toward the holidays, Walker pressed Sarah Chen, the owner of Maple House assisted living facility, where her parents were staying, about the vaccine distribution. Like Walker, Chen didn't have the answers. All she knew was that her facility was on a federal list, but no firm date was provided.
"I was so angry," she said. "The people who needed it and who are most vulnerable weren't getting it. And why was it that some places were getting it and others weren't?"
Walker's certain that if her parents had received the vaccine earlier, then they still would be alive today.
Walker said the last time she was able to visit with her parents in person was on Father's Day last June. She remembers the day vividly: "I brought Dad his favorite depression-era food, mac and cheese, and mom a carrot cake."