Published on June 02, 2021

Personalized Care was Key on His Long Road to COVID Recovery

Jay McDowell not only likes cheering on the Chippewas, he has served as a video coordinator for the CMU football team for 11 years.

Jay McDowell has been a video coordinator for the Central Michigan University (CMU) football team for 11 years. He has great passion for his job and the student athletes he works with. At age 47, he was in the weight room with the team, keeping a respectable pace despite having had major back surgery. In late autumn, however, McDowell contracted COVID-19 which stopped him in his tracks. With multiple complications that required more than two months of hospitalization, it was the constant care and encouragement from the RehabCentre staff at MidMichigan Medical Center – Gratiot that kept him motivated and eventually allowed him to return home to his family.

McDowell had been traveling with the CMU football team and, like the athletes, was required to have COVID-19 testing multiple times a week. When he experienced intense back pain from a particularly long bus trip and was feeling “off,” he made a telephone call to his physician. On that call, it was determined McDowell needed care immediately and that he should get to the emergency room, which he promptly did.

“My symptoms hit fast and hard,” said McDowell. “I had made it through two heart procedures thirteen years prior to this, as well as my fair share of muscle and bone injuries. Let me tell you, fighting COVID-19 was without a doubt my toughest health challenge.”

McDowell was admitted at MidMichigan Medical Center in Gratiot. After several weeks in the hospital, he suffered a ruptured colon and underwent surgery to repair it. Post-surgery, COVID symptoms worsened. McDowell had irregular heart rhythm and was unable to breathe on his own. He was transferred to MidMichigan Medical Center in Midland where he received a temporary pacemaker and continued treatment for COVID. After two weeks, one of which he spent in a coma, McDowell was transferred to the RehabCentre at Gratiot where staff were determined to help McDowell regain the strength and function he had lost.

“Mr. McDowell was a completely independent man before he came to our Medical Center,” said Lynne Burlingame, M.A., C.C.C./S.L.P., program director at MidMichigan’s RehabCentre. “Unfortunately, after COVID-19 and the series of subsequent medical issues he endured, he required maximum assistance doing everything when we started. He was very weak and in a lot of pain, but he was also very motivated to improve and pushed hard for progress.”

In addition to physical limitations that kept him from standing, walking or sitting up in bed unassisted, McDowell was demonstrating difficulty with cognitive and communication skills. He worked with a speech therapist who helped him with attention, processing speed, memory and executive functioning. Occupational and physical therapists worked with him three times per day to help him regain his strength and motor skills due to critical illness myopathy.

“Critical illness myopathy can develop following severe, extended medical issues such as sepsis, multi-organ failure and acute respiratory distress syndrome,” said Burlingame. “It involves rapidly evolving neuromuscular weakness which can cause significant difficulty weaning from a ventilator and difficulty with functional movement. Jay required extensive rehab to regain normal function. We were all rooting for him.”

“I went from reverse-curling 135 pounds to having trouble lifting my fork,” said McDowell. “I really couldn’t do anything on my own, and I had trouble remembering things. It was hard work, but those therapists were the absolute best. They were right there with me every day, helping me take baby steps toward recovery. They were always positive and applied just the right amount of pressure to keep me going. Even if I had wanted to give up, they wouldn’t have let me.”

After months in the hospital and many Facetime calls, McDowell’s wife and two children helped him walk out of the building on his own. The Medical Center staff was just as happy to have him discharged. “He walked off the unit after 81 days in the hospital to the CMU fight song and a confetti shower from cheering staff members from all departments who had helped care for him over the course of his stay,” said Burlingame.

McDowell is still healing and can’t wait to get back to work with his Chips. “I am still moving cautiously and my memory is still coming back,” said McDowell. “I was in and out of it so much, much of it is a blur. What I will never forget, however, is how the nurses looked me right in the eyes and actually saw me - not a number or a patient – but me as a person and as someone’s father, brother, and husband. With all that was going on around them, they truly cared for me. They saved my life.”

McDowell confessed that he wasn’t expecting the level of care he received from his local Medical Center. “First-class doesn’t begin to describe it,” he stated. When asked what he wanted to share with others about his experience, his reply was this: “COVID is not a joke. It is as real as real gets, and it affects everyone differently. Do everything you can to keep yourself and others safe.”

Those who would like more information about the RehabCentre at MidMichigan Medical Center – Gratiot may visit www.midmichigan.org/rehabcentre.