In just a matter of days, Omari Mitchell had lost control of his own body because of the novel coronavirus. He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t breathe.
“It didn’t make no sense,” his 72-year-old father, Dee, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Tuesday. “It was completely out of the blue.”
At 39, Omari Mitchell, a radio host for KLUC-FM, 98.5, was healthy and strong — a far cry from the high-risk population of individuals 65 and older or those with underlying conditions. So when he developed a mild cough in late March, he wasn’t too worried.
But by March 29, he felt feverish. His chest was tight. He could barely form a full sentence without gasping for air.
His story, one of drastic decline, illustrates an emerging pattern of COVID-19 that some doctors and health officials are seeing.
Omari Mitchell told his 15-year-old daughter, Aniya, he’d be back soon and drove himself to Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center.
He did not come home that night.
‘Fighting and fighting’
Dr. Michelle Gong, chief of critical care medicine at a hospital in the Bronx, New York, said in a Q&A with the Journal of the American Medical Association, that the decline from COVID-19 “can be very abrupt,” often happening around the five-day mark.
“It’s respiratory arrest in its true form: a sudden type of hypoxia and worsening that requires emergent intubation,” Gong said. Hypoxia is a condition in which the body, or a region of the body, is deprived of adequate oxygen supply.
Such was the case for Omari Mitchell, who was quickly admitted into the intensive care unit when he arrived at the hospital and soon after was hooked up to a ventilator and placed in a medically induced coma.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has warned that some patients initially will experience only mild symptoms, then “rapidly deteriorate one week after illness onset.”
“It was traumatic for Aniya,” said Greg Ritchie, Omari Mitchell’s best friend. “Her dad didn’t come back, and now she’s quarantined.”
Omari Mitchell was in the ICU — alone — for a week. Doctors at one point put him on dialysis.
“It was looking rough for a while,” Ritchie said. “He was just fighting and fighting.”
Meanwhile, more than 500 miles away in Vacaville, California, the man’s father couldn’t keep still. He paced and paced. Cried. He couldn’t push away the urge to climb into his car and drive to his son.
“I couldn’t even let myself outside,” Dee Mitchell said, crying. “Next thing I know I’m on my way to Vegas.”
Finally, five days after his son’s hospitalization, Dee Mitchell got some good news: His son’s condition was improving.
Doctors began to reverse the coma, and the ventilator was replaced with a respirator mask.
The next day, Saturday, Omari Mitchell was strong enough to call his father and his daughter. Groggy from his medications, he could hardly speak after a spending a week intubated.
Still, it was the best phone call of Dee Mitchell’s life.
“That’s my heart right there,” he said of his son.
By Sunday, Omari Mitchell was shifting to recovery mode and was removed from the ICU. And as of Tuesday, the radio host was working closely with speech and physical therapists at the hospital.
His father isn’t sure when or how he was exposed to the virus. Omari Mitchell had been working from his Las Vegas home “for a while” by the time of his diagnosis.
A spokeswoman for KLUC declined to comment. But Ritchie said the Las Vegas radio station “has been absolutely amazing and supportive.”
When Omari Mitchell will get to go home is unclear. According to the CDC, the median length of hospitalization among survivors is 10 to 13 days.
“We still don’t know what’s going to happen,” Dee Mitchell said. “But, oh, am I happy he’s alive.”
Until Omari Mitchell is medically cleared to go home, Aniya, who lives with her father, will remain quarantined at her mother’s house. Ritchie has set up a GoFundMe to raise money for the man’s medical bills and for Aniya’s care.