A student survivor

Meghann Rise

Meghann Rise

SDSU Young Hall CA Chris Dekker is making a slow recovery after battling a life-threatening case of pneumonia and H1N1.

Dekker’s parents, Cheryl and Doug, said that on Oct. 16, Chris had a fever and mild flu-like symptoms. On Oct. 19, he visited the Student Health Clinic on campus and was tested for H1N1. The test came back negative, but he was released from school for a week as a precaution.

Dekker was brought home by his mother to recover, but by Oct. 20, he was brought into the emergency room in Norfolk, Neb., and diagnosed with pneumonia in his left lung. He received antibiotics and was sent home until his follow-up appointment on Nov. 22.

When Chris went to his follow-up appointment, he was admitted into the hospital. The following morning, his chest X-rays showed the pneumonia was worse and had spread to his right lung. His oxygen levels had dropped as well, so the decision was made to put Dekker on a ventilator. From there, his condition deteriorated.

Dekker was flown to Omaha, Neb., to Creighton Medical Center, where he was placed in the Intensive Care Unit. Dekker’s parents were told Chris was the hospital’s most critical patient.

From Oct. 23 on, his condition deteriorated. On Oct. 30, Dekker suffered from a collapsed lung and air started escaping. A chest tube was placed on his left side, and he was on a ventilator until Nov. 10. Dekker suffered from Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).

According to WebMD.com, ARDS is a type of severe, acute lung dysfunction as the result of an injury or illness and is considered a medical emergency. It can often spread to include other organs. In Dekker’s case, pneumonia led to ARDS. With ARDS, there is a 40 to 60 percent mortality rate. The chest tube helped alleviate his ARDS, and he was also placed on nitrous oxide to restore his oxygen levels, his parents said.

Since Nov. 1, Dekker was taken off of nitrous oxide and has been making slow progress ever since.

“We went through the rest of that week just taking baby steps,” the Dekkers said.

Dekker is now awake and breathing on his own, yet he still has many more days in the hospital and therapy afterwards. Because he has been in a bed so long and has had machines breathing for him, he gets fatigued easily and has to complete physical therapy to retrain his muscles.

“We’re going to be here for a while yet,” the Dekkers said. “Just because the tube is out, it doesn’t mean we’re leaving in the next day or so. The chest tube is still in the side of his chest. We haven’t really talked about the long term with the doctor. We have just been dealing with right now.”

Not only has Chris Dekker’s condition been hard on him and his family, it is also taking a toll on friends who miss having him around, such as senior hospitality management major Tim Goldammer.

“I’ve missed Chris’s sense of humor,” Goldammer said. “The man is really good at making everyone laugh, so much so, his nickname is Farley. The situation is crappy. … There is no reason anyone should ever have to go through that.”

Students need to be aware of the complications that can arise with H1N1. Not everyone who contracts it will get pneumonia, but it is a possibility. Students must be aware of the possibilities and receive medical treatment if they think they are sick, the Dekkers said.

“The thing that was frustrating was it took four tests before Chris showed positive for H1N1,” Cheryl Dekker said. “If you have a fever and you have a cough, you need to see a doctor right away. Kids don’t think they’re going to be sick for very long, and they don’t realize how bad it can get.”

The best way for students to prevent serious complications from H1N1? Seeking medical attention. That was what the Dekkers did. Although they were not able to prevent the pneumonia and ARDS, they did prevent Chris from dying, they said.

“We were very aggressive with getting him into the doctor,” the Dekkers said. “We have been very proactive with getting him the care he needed.”

Junior business economics major Kelsea Hotvet was proactive in getting the care she needed when she suddenly fell ill.

“It all hit me at once,” Hotvet said. “I was perfectly fine one minute, then all of a sudden I hurt all over, my temp went up three degrees in half an hour. I woke up in the morning, and the first thing I did was call Student Health and Sanford Health to see which one I could get into first.”

Hotvet was diagnosed with H1N1, and since then, has taken precautions to prevent it from leading to more complications.