CORONAVIRUS

Tiffin teen recovers from 'unbearable' coronavirus

High school senior's illness shows 'we all need to be careful'

Dimitri Mitchell, 18 of Tiffin, lies in the emergency room at Mercy Hospital in Iowa City. He was diagnosed with COVID-1
Dimitri Mitchell, 18 of Tiffin, lies in the emergency room at Mercy Hospital in Iowa City. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 last month and has since recovered/ (Supplied photo)
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It started as a cold.

Dimitri Mitchell, 18, of Tiffin, said he first started coughing the night of St. Patrick’s Day. Four days later, he was in the emergency room with a persistent cough, a fever, watery eyes, sweats and a headache he described as “unbearable — one of the worst pains I’ve ever felt.”

With all that is going on in the world, Mitchell said the possibility he had coronavirus sat there, nagging, in the back of his mind. But the teenager dismissed it.

“I don’t fit the criteria that we had been told about,” he said. “I’m young, I’m healthy and I don’t have any lung or immune problems. When I got sick, we were being told that COVID-19 would mainly affect older people and people who already had health problems.”

On March 21, Mitchell — a senior at Clear Creek Amana High School — said he and his mother, Irena Yoder, made their first trip to the emergency room.

“He came into my room and woke me up at 4 a.m.,” Yoder said. “He was really sick with a cough and chills, so we went to the emergency room.”

Like her son, Yoder said it occurred to her it could be COVID-19, and she asked medical staff at the hospital to test him, but they declined — Dimitri did not meet the testing criteria.

Instead, she said, he was tested for flu and several other bronchial conditions before they were sent home with cough syrup and instruction for him to rest.

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Less than 48 hours later, Yoder rushed her son back to the emergency room. This time, she said, he woke her up crying in unbearable pain and told her “he just couldn’t take it anymore.”

The “unbearable headache” had set in and Yoder said her son’s face and skin were “red and splotchy,” his eyes were watery and swollen and he had a fever of 103 degrees and chills. He also complained he could not smell or taste anything.

At that point, Yoder said she was determined to get her son tested for COVID-19. While en route to the hospital, she called the state’s 211 COVID-19 hotline and explained the situation.

“My mom was on hold for like an hour and a half before someone got on the phone and spoke to her,” Mitchell said. “And she just kept insisting to the doctors that I needed to be tested.”

When someone finally did answer her call to the 211 hotline, Yoder said it was a woman who listened compassionately as she explained her son’s symptoms.

“I was so frustrated,” Yoder said. “I was mad and I wanted to know what was going on with my son. I felt so helpless.”

And to Yoder’s relief, the woman on the phone agreed.

“She agreed that Dimitri should be tested and gave the doctors the OK,” Yoder said. “Regardless of whether he met the testing criteria, she said we couldn’t take any chances by not testing him. I wish I knew her name so I could thank her. I really appreciate her.”

Given Mitchell was not having problems breathing, he told it was safer for him to not be admitted and was again sent home — this time with antibiotics, prescription cough syrup and a steroidal inhaler.

Two days later, the test came back positive — he had COVID-19.

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For the next two weeks, Yoder — who is a phlebotomist at Mercy Hospital in Iowa City — tended to her son as he waited for the fever to break and the chills to subside. The cough, he said, would be the last thing to go, and likely will have it for a few more weeks.

“I was checking on him like every 10 minutes because I was scared,” Yoder said. “He was so sick and weak and I was just making sure he was drinking lots of fluids and giving him cold compresses for his head, and when I wasn’t watching him, I was cleaning everything.”

When Mitchell’s fever finally broke and his appetite returned, Yoder said she felt huge relief.

She could finally relax for a moment and take care of her own illness — having contracted what health officials said was likely COVID-19 from her son.

“When the sweats stopped — because they were really bad like every day — that’s when I noticed I was starting to feel better,” Mitchell said. “Then it went uphill pretty quickly after that.”

Earlier this month, Mitchell said the health department deemed he was no longer contagious and lifted his quarantine. Despite that, Mitchell said he still is staying home — and even isolating from his mom in the house — just to be safe.

“I know they labeled me no longer infectious, but it’s still kind of scary,” Mitchell said. “Just the fact that I was so sick, and I still have my cough, it’s horrible to think that I could give it to anybody else.”

When he has ventured out, it has been for short walks.

“That’s been really nice,” he said. “I’ve definitely missed that.”

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Being 18 and in good health, Mitchell said he didn’t think he would contract COVID-19. And even if he did, he thought he wouldn’t get that sick.

“You don’t think you’re going to get it at all,” he said. “And if you do get it — and I think this is true especially for people my age — you feel like it wouldn’t affect you as badly as it would an older person. And at the time the news was still reporting that the virus would mainly affect older people, and I think that gave me a false sense of security.”

Now that he’s caught and beat the virus, Mitchell said he hopes people take the health warnings seriously.

“Because, like I said, I had that false sense of security, and I didn’t think I would get it,” he said. “I was still taking all the precautions — making sure I washed my hands and everything like that because obviously I didn’t want to get sick.

“I just want everybody to follow all the recommendations and rules that have been put in place and just be responsible about it, because it is here and it affects everyone. I don’t want people to spread it around if they can prevent it,” he added. “And I just hope this ends as soon as possible, so we can all get back to normal life.”

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

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