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Nineteen-year-old diagnosed with COVID-19 spent "scariest night of my life being in ICU"

Matt Greenshields has a clean bill of health from Alberta Health and is resting at home
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Matt Greenshields, 19, in the intensive care unit at the Calgary South Health Campus recovering from COVID-19. He has been given a clean bill of health by Alberta Health Services. (photo submitted)

OKOTOKS — A 19-year-old Okotokian has been given the all-clear after possibly being the youngest person in Alberta to be placed in the intensive care unit because of COVID-19.

“That was the scariest night of my life being in ICU,” said Matt Greenshields from his Okotoks home on April 15. “You hear horror stories about ICU and COVID, knowing I was in there was unnerving…Yesterday, I finally got cleared by Alberta Health to move around.”

Greenshields added he believes he is the youngest person in Alberta to be in ICU due to COVID-19.

He started developing COVID-19 symptoms on March 12 with a runny nose and headache and returned from his University of Calgary residence to his Okotoks family home.

“I was planning to stay at home just for the weekend and then go back up, because I thought I just had a common cold,” Greenshields said. “Then the school shut down, so the only time I left my house was to go back up to the school and move my stuff out. I came in contact with no one while I was there.”

He stayed home upon his return.

His symptoms came and went. However, on March 24, they came back with a vengeance and he also had some swelling in his throat.

“That is when the lymph nodes in my throat started swelling,” Greenshields said. “The next day, I started coughing up quite a bit of blood.”

He was admitted to Calgary's South Health Campus on March 25 because of his trouble breathing and the swelling.

There was a concern that he had lymphoma. In fact when told of this he joked: ‘Gee, I hope it’s COVID.”

He was informed he had COVID-19 the next day (tests showed he did not have lymphoma).

“I was told I couldn’t have any visitors at all, so I had to say bye to my mom (Connie) which was one of the hardest parts of the whole experience knowing I had to be alone at the hospital,” Greenshields said.

Then things got worse. He was informed he also had mononucleosis, which is what caused the swelling in the throat.

“My tonsils were so big I couldn’t talk at all and I was being fed through IV because I couldn’t swallow,” he said. “They were concerned about my breathing being obstructed so I went down to ICU for a potential tracheotomy and to be watched.

“That night my symptoms just exploded. It was a really tough night.”

Greenshields said the combination of the mononucleosis and the COVID-19 is what made his situation life-threatening.

He did not need the tracheotomy or a ventilator.

Greenshields was discharged from the hospital on March 31  and returned to his Okotoks family home. He went directly to his bedroom. He remained isolated from his sister Liana, a Grade 12 student at Foothills Composite High School, father Jamie and mother Connie.

“I was still positive for COVID-19,” Matt said. “They would just bring me food and leave it outside the door. I didn’t see them for the first week.”

A tough experience for a mother, dad and sister – who were able to keep it together for Matt.

Connie was the one who broke the news to her son that he had tested positive. She was fully ‘gowned up’ while in Matt’s room as suspected COVID-19 patients were isolated at the hospital.

She was informed by the doctor, through the door, that Matt had COVID-19. Connie asked if she could be the one to tell her son who was sleeping. (Matt, an adult, had given permission to health authorities to talk about his situation with his mom and dad).

“I woke him and told him,” Connie said. “I was told that now that Matt was positive, I had to leave. That was the hardest part at that point. I soaked right through my surgical mask that’s how hard I was crying.

“I remember telling the nurse: ‘But he’s only 19…

“Then I felt bad for the nurse– how hard it is to enforce this policy of no family.”

She said when Matt texted her to inform her about his going into ICU, she dropped her phone.

“I was trying to type ‘Please no,’ and I couldn’t get the words out,” Connie said. “I immediately got it together – he needed support, he needed some positivity. I had to let him know they know what they are doing at the hospital…It was horrific, not being there and imagining the fear he must be going through.”

Matt was in ICU for about 24 hours.

“We were worried about catching it,” Connie said. “It is kind of surprising to us that we didn’t get it… We did a lot of handwashing, Lysol wipe the doorknobs, food trays before and after we took it to him. We took all of the precautions."

Matt went public with his story on his Facebook and Instagram page because he wanted people to know that a healthy young person – the athletic Greenshields was an all-star volleyball player with the Foothills Falcons – can catch COVID-19.

“People my age, we have that invincibility factor, you still hang out with your friends and going to get-togethers and when I saw what was happening, I said I don’t want anybody to go through what I did, so I shared my story… I’ve had people tell me my story has opened their eyes.”

The one question he would love to answer is how did he get COVID-19.

He hadn’t travelled out of the country.

However, he said prior to March 12 the U of C had announced there were three cases at the school – one in the business school.

“I must have been at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Matt said. “Maybe I touched one door handle. It’s such a unique thing. I don’t know how I got it. It was such a shock when they told me in the hospital.”

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Bruce Campbell

About the Author: Bruce Campbell

Bruce Campbell is the editor for Okotokstoday.ca and the Western Wheel newspaper. He is a graduate of Mount Royal College journalism program, 1991. For story tips contact [email protected]
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