CLEVELAND – Doctors are still learning how COVID-19 impacts certain people.
Transplant recipients may be a particularly vulnerable group because the medications they take suppress the immune system, putting them at higher risk for any infection.
Nick Hunter, 24, was born with cystic fibrosis – a disease that attacks the lungs, and four years ago had a double lung transplant.
“I’ve been able to, kind of, hit the reset button on my illness and really live life the way I’ve wanted to growing up,” Hunter said.
Hunter recently graduated from college with a journalism degree. He began job hunting – and staying on top of COVID-19.
“I keep up with the news, especially when there’s been a health issue kind of arising, so I was very aware of what the symptoms were,” Hunter said.
After visiting with an asymptomatic family member, who had been in contact with someone who later tested positive for the virus, Hunter developed a cough, stuffy nose, low grade fever and headache, which worsened over the next week.
“I just decided to go to the ER. I was concerned enough,” he said. “When I went there they had me tested. I tested positive, and they did a chest X-ray, and found a severe case of pneumonia.”
Right away, he was admitted to Cleveland Clinic Akron General but the next day, his condition worsened.
“When I was sleeping, my oxygen level had dropped critically low, and so they just decided right then and there to put me on a ventilator,” Hunter recalled.
Being on a ventilator increases risk for lung infection – making Hunter’s transplanted lungs even more susceptible to complications.
“You have lungs already that are there, that are very vulnerable and very, very sensitive to any sort of change, or any sort of insult,” said Marie Budev, DO, MPH, of Cleveland Clinic.
Hunter spent a week fighting for his life on the ventilator.
“I haven’t really said this out loud very much, but I could have passed away without saying goodbye to family, without them being there with me,” Hunter said. “Thankfully that didn’t happen. It’s been something I’ve really tried to wrap my head around.”
He feels lucky to be alive and has a message for those questioning coronavirus.
“I would absolutely say the most important thing to do is to take it seriously,” said Hunter. “Wear masks, stay six feet apart, wash and sanitize your hands, all of that stuff.”
Dr. Budev said Hunter’s youth and strength helped pull him through. But, he’s not out of the woods just yet. Because COVID-19 is still new, doctors won’t know the long-term impact on his lungs for a year or more.