College Football Player Shares Dad’s Coronavirus Recovery Story: ‘It Is Possible to Win’
Ellis McKennie Sr. spent 15 days in a medically induced coma and nearly a month in the hospital before he was discharged on April 13
A former offensive lineman on the University of Maryland football team is reflecting on the pain — and eventual joy — that came with his father’s battle and ultimate recovery from the novel coronavirus.
Ellis McKennie III, who will soon graduate from UMD with his master’s degree, opened up about dad Ellis McKennie Sr.’s terrifying journey in a candid personal letter published Friday.
The 22-year-old athlete wrote that heading into the spring, he had everything to look forward to, including Maryland’s Pro Day — where he’d play before dozens of NFL scouts — graduation, and his recent acceptance to George Washington University Law School.
By mid-March, however, his plans had come to a screeching halt as the coronavirus began infecting Americans, leading to widespread shutdowns of everything from sports seasons to movie theaters.
“As a selfish 22-year-old, all I could see were my NFL dreams falling through the cracks. The last few weeks of what has been the best five years of my life were gone in the blink of an eye,” he wrote. “No Pro Day. No graduation. No Senior Spring. That was all I could think about on March 15.”
McKennie’s world was further turned upside down on March 21, when his father tested positive for COVID-19 and was placed on a ventilator in a 15-day medically induced coma.
The elder McKennie was hospitalized for nearly a month at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Hanover, with his son and the rest of their family unable to visit due to hospital restrictions.
“Growing up, I saw my father as the greatest superhero there ever was,” McKennie wrote. “The smartest, cleverest, most athletic, most confident man on the planet. I always tried to emulate his level of intellect and charisma. The last thing I could imagine is seeing him hooked up to a ventilator, his lifeless eyes fluttering as we just try to let him hear our voices.”
RELATED VIDEO: Reporter Interviews College Mascot Dogs Via Video Chat
While his mother and sister quarantined at their home in McSherrystown, Pennsylvania, McKennie stayed with his aunt, and visited the hospital parking lot daily, where he’d look up to his father’s window in an effort to be closer to him.
McKennie’s father’s condition deteriorated by the day as he remained on the ventilator, he wrote, and at one point, the family believed he was “truly on his last leg.”
“I couldn’t avoid a feeling of utter helplessness,” he wrote. “At night, the news would come on and report a growing number of deaths in America from this virus. It appeared it would only be a matter of time until my dad was one of those numbers, and there was nothing I could do about it.”
The family’s plight meant that McKennie wasn’t even able to enjoy the moment he received a letter from the Baltimore Ravens saying they were potentially interested in adding him to the team, as he was unable to call his dad and fill him in. The college athlete eventually went undrafted, and will instead head to law school in the fall.
Luckily for the family, things took a turn for the better on March 28, and days later, McKennie Sr. awoke from his coma and was finally able to speak with his family.
He was eventually discharged from the hospital on April 13 in an emotional moment that was captured on film by his son.
“Reality strikes when you see your superhero in a fight for his life,” McKennie wrote. “But your previous thoughts are reaffirmed when you see him win what seemed to be an unwinnable battle.”
McKennie Sr. no longer has coronavirus symptoms, and happily celebrated his 52nd birthday on April 19 with a party on Zoom.
“To those who are suffering from this disease the way my father and my family have, I want this story to inspire a feeling of hope,” McKennie wrote. “This disease is a formidable opponent. Many strong and wonderful individuals have lost the fight with COVID-19. But it is possible to win.”
As of Monday afternoon, there have been at least 965,214 cases and 49,465 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States, according to The New York Times.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.