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AC student starts road toward COVID-19 recovery

Staff Writer
Herald Democrat
An Austin College student continues to recover following a month-long case of COVID-19 throughout September.

An Austin College student is starting his long road to recovery following a month-long battle with COVID-19.

Family members of Austin College Senior Chris Miller said he has had positive progress in recent days following hospitalization from COVID-19 in early September.

Since the beginning of the fall semester, Austin College has reported 74 COVID-19 cases cumulative since Aug. 12, with six active cases as of Monday afternoon.

We want everyone to know that this disease is real and it is important to take it seriously because it is unpredictable and does not discriminate,“ said Honoria Bush, Miller’s sister. ”It can attack anybody and their family. Just be responsible by putting your mask on and take it seriously.“

Following several tense weeks at Texoma Medical Center, doctors were able to stop artificially oxygenating Miller’s blood on Sunday.

“Yesterday may have been his best day out of this entire thing,” Bush said on Monday. “He was taken off of ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) and he had been on ECMO for 23 days.”

Bush referred to a technique that is related to a cardiopulmonary bypass in which blood is pulled from the body and oxygenated before being returned. Through this, doctors were able to remove the strain on Miller’s lungs as they recovered.

Miller also started coming off of medical sedation over the weekend and was able to respond to commands, including blinking and nodding.

“Just three days ago they were talking about a lobectomy,” she said, referring to a surgical removal of some lung tissue. “

Bush said her brother’s fight against COVID-19 started in late August following AC’s convocation. About a week later, Miller reported that he had lost his sense of taste and smell — a common symptom of COVID-19.

At about this time a friend who attended convocation with Miller also tested positive for the disease. Miller’s two roommates have also tested positive since then.

“They had been careful leading up to this, but when they went to convocation it began to spread,” Bush said.

On Aug. 31, Miller was found on the ground struggling to breathe and was taken to Wilson N. Jones Regional Medical Center and later transported to Texoma Medical Center.

Miller continued to struggle to breath over the next few days, which led to doctors intubating him and performing ECMO on Sept. 4.

Leading up to this, Bush said her brother was taking about 50 to 60 breaths a minute, which the average person takes about 12 per minute while at rest.

Bush said her brother’s condition is starting to improve, but it could take him months to fully recover. Over the weekend doctors worked to remove blood clots from Miller’s lungs for the 15th time since he was hospitalized. This will help prepare his lungs to start working independently in the future.

“It is going to be pretty lengthy because Chris needs to learn to walk again, and more importantly breathe on his own again.”

Meanwhile, Bush said the family has turned to God during this hard time.

“She has really given it to God,” she said. “It has been very hard on her, but with me being the nurse in the family because I need to be on top of every job as well as my job.”

Once Miller stabilizes, Bush said he will likely have months of therapy ahead of him.The other challenge facing him will be paying for the medical bills without insurance. A Go Fund Me campaign has been started by a family friend and has raised more than $43,000 as of Monday afternoon.

Earlier this month, Austin College started offering a new form of testing that promises higher accuracy than the traditional nasal swab technique. Instead, the tests use an oral swab and cough test through testing provider Well Health.

Since Sept. 15, more than 1,000 tests have been provided free of charge at the college to students and members of the community. The test’s have an average return time of 48 to 72 hours.

“We will have our entire census of our campus tested within 10 business days,” said Lynn Womble, AC chief marketing & communications officer. “We are more than halfway there and we are happy about that.”

College officials declined to comment specifically on Miller’s case, citing confidentiality law.

This testing build off of AC’s daily health screening, which is required for those on campus for classes.The screening utilizes AC’s smart phone app, which is also assisting with contact tracing.

In order to enter classrooms, buildings and offices, students must scan a QR code. When someone tests positive for COVID-19, this technique will help identify people they may have come into contact with.

Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at mhutchins@heralddemocrat.com.

Austin College Senior Chris Miller is beginning to recover following a month-long battle with COVID-19