LITTLE VALLEY — Following his frantic drive to Olean General Hospital from his home in Little Valley in early April, Cameron McClure was so weak and out of breath when he walked into the emergency department that he collapsed inside the door.
McClure was one of the most severe COVID-19 cases the hospital has treated and he credits his survival to the medical staff — but more importantly, he says, to God.
McClure, 45, shared his story to let the community know of the skill and care provided by the nurses, doctors and other professionals at Olean General — and the church groups that prayed for him at their homes and even in the hospital parking lot.
McClure, who is single and a former carpenter, is now home and has had time to reflect on what he believes was a miracle that led to his recovery. He also believes his ordeal with the virus that has caused a worldwide pandemic and has killed hundreds of thousands, began in late March after he traveled to Buffalo to see a chiropractor. After the visit, he went grocery shopping and stopped at another store.
Several days later, he began detecting symptoms of the virus and was tested March 25 to determine if he had contracted the highly contagious illness. He found out the next day he indeed had tested positive for COVID-19.
In early April, he began feeling so ill that he called an ambulance, but when it didn’t arrive within an hour at his home, he decided to drive himself the approximately 30 miles to Olean General.
“My skin was turning purple and I couldn’t breathe, so I decided I would drive to Olean,” McClure recalled. “I didn’t realize how bad I was. The (the ambulance company) called me right as I went under the Allegany underpass” on Interstate 86 to say a vehicle had been dispatched to pick him up.
He made it into the emergency department, which is about 10 minutes away from the Allegany exit with little time to spare. Because of the severity of his illness, his memory is fragmented on some of what followed.
“I do recall talking with somebody at the hospital (on the cell phone) and they said, ‘We have somebody at the entrance with a wheelchair,’” he said.
After parking his car in the hospital lot and putting his phone in his book bag, he walked toward the hospital.
“I put one foot in the hospital and that was where I collapsed,” he said. “At that time I was like X-Men mutant purple. They call it mottling (of the skin); your organs shut down.”
McClure said doctors later determined he has underlying health issues that include diabetes, high blood pressure, an enlarged heart and high cholesterol that likely contributed to the severity of his illness.
When Dr. Jeremy Barnett, who specializes in critical care and has worked at facilities that included Westchester Medical Center outside of New York City, assessed McClure’s condition, he made a promise to his patient’s parents. The promise was that he would do everything he could to keep McClure alive.
It was a challenge not only for Barnett, but all of the medical staff who were involved with McClure’s care in the Intensive Care Unit.
“I was in full cardiac arrest two to three times and they didn’t think I was going to make it,” McClure recounted. “And I was on a respirator for almost two weeks.”
Overall, he was in intensive care for 21 days and spent a total of 28 1/2 days in Olean General. During much of that time, he was confined to bed.
“Actually, I’ve had some neurological damage and I’ve also had some heart damage,” he noted. “My kidneys shut down completely and I was on dialysis for about a week.”
McClure said an event that was done on his behalf, and really touched him, occurred shortly after he was admitted to the hospital.
“Somebody coordinated with local churches to gather at the hospital,” he remarked. “They were all in their cars … they flashed their lights in their cars and they were all praying.”
McClure said he later saw a video of the cars in the parking lot and was very appreciative of the gathering, their prayers and God’s help with his survival.
He also is grateful to the nurses, medical staff and doctors, including Barnett, who stayed by his side throughout the ordeal until his discharge on April 30. He had lost 60 pounds during his hospital stay and is now being helped by family members, nurses and therapists with his continued recovery at home.
“The staff was amazing and between the people praying, weeping and singing hymns (in the parking lot), I only feel like a small character in a bigger story,” he admitted. “It’s such a positive story and it really is a miracle. I shouldn’t be alive … I believe God worked for me through them.
“My faith has been restored.”
For his part, Barnett confirmed McClure was likely the worst COVID-19 patient successfully treated at Olean General.
Barnett said he believes McClure had a will to live, but he also believes the medical staff at Olean General were key in pulling him through.
“I’ve been doing this for quite a while, probably over 20 years, and I have had the privilege of working with many different places, but these particular nurses with the ICU are unrivaled to any other place on the planet,” Barnett said. “Everyone of them, no matter what it was like, they all just threw themselves at this” staying in McClure’s room to assist.
“I basically lived in that (hospital) room literally for four days straight. The people I work with here … are so incredibly hard-working” he said, noting includes nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and others.
Barnett said an emotional moment for him occurred when McClure was taken off a ventilator.
“When he first came off the vent, I had to go in the back because you just get really teared up, as everybody else did,” he said.
(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)